Over the years, I’ve heard it referred to as a lot of things. A bag of chips. A bucket of balls. A hill of beans. Plenty of other things I’m probably forgetting. It’s what you metaphorically receive when you trade someone for essentially nothing. WNBA rules require something to go in both directions in a two-team trade, and we actually saw a deal earlier this offseason that came as close to nothing as something can get – when Sugar Rodgers went from Minnesota to New York for the right to swap third-round picks in next year’s draft. Given that as a comparison, Swin Cash and a third-round pick going from Chicago to Atlanta for Courtney Clements and a second-round pick wasn’t quite a bag of chips. But it was no more than a bag and a half, and it was one of those flavours that no one actually likes.
The story behind this deal goes back a little way. Cash was cored by the Chicago Sky when the offseason began in earnest, after the WNBA and the Players’ Association finally agreed a new collective bargaining agreement. The core designation is like the WNBA’s version of the NFL’s franchise tag – teams can place it on one of their outgoing players who would otherwise become an unrestricted free agent, restricting that player to only being able to negotiate or sign with their existing team. In return, the player automatically receives a one-year, maximum salary contract offer – although she and the team can negotiate a deal of up to four years at any salary from the minimum to the maximum.
Here’s where we get into rumours and whispers, which typically carry a grain of truth but often with a bunch of supposition thrown on top. Chicago reportedly didn’t want to give Cash any more than that automatic one-year max deal. Part of the problem there may have been that any contract signed when a player is cored ties up that team’s core spot for the length of the contract (or until the player leaves the team via trade or retirement). So if, for example, Cash had signed a three-year deal with the Sky, they wouldn’t have been able to core anyone else until 2017 (unless they traded her away). That could’ve been a big problem, considering Sylvia Fowles is out of contract after this year, and losing her would be a vastly bigger deal than losing Cash. Of course, the Sky may also not have wanted to give Cash more than a year because they felt like she was getting older and wouldn’t deserve the money in later years of a longer deal.
Cash, reportedly, wanted more years and therefore declined to sign the core qualifying offer (technical name for that automatic one-year max deal). Somewhere along the line, a deadline passed for her to sign that offer, and although she was still just as restricted to only negotiating or signing with the Sky, the team was no longer required to offer her more than the veteran minimum ($55,000, as opposed to the $105,000 max). Considering the acrimony that seemed to be developing throughout this process, their offer may well have dropped to the lower figure at that point.
Meanwhile, tweets from old friends and former teammates of Cash like Lauren Jackson and Ashley Robinson started popping up, using the hashtag #FreeSwin and asking how such an iconic, veteran player could be kept from playing in the WNBA. Maybe those were entirely unprompted and merely came from fellow players who felt their friend had been mistreated and undervalued. On the other hand, maybe Cash asked them to help her out and put a little extra public pressure on the Sky.
Whether orchestrated or not, apparently it worked. For some reason, the Sky gave in and sent Cash to Atlanta, in return for a player who was dreadful last year as a rookie and might not even survive training camp. The swap of low-end picks is virtually irrelevant as well, especially considering how poor most people project next year’s draft to be. It’s hard to see why Pokey Chatman and the Sky caved. They got nothing back worth a damn. Cash wasn’t going to cost them anything sitting on her couch all summer. It could even have been read as something of a victory for the teams’ side of the battleground, after Tina Charles forced her way from Connecticut to New York earlier in the offseason in a victory for player power. On top of that, they sent Cash to a team that has won the Eastern Conference championship in three of the last four years, strengthening a squad that Chicago should be trying to beat this summer. Even if Chatman only thought Cash was worth a one-year deal, she must surely see that Cash is better than whatever scrub is cut from the end of Atlanta’s bench to make room for her.
The only reason for the Sky agreeing to this deal was as a PR move to end the whining and campaigning from Cash and her friends on social media. That seems like something that could’ve been easily handled by just ignoring it, and maybe giving an interview or two that explained the situation from the team’s perspective. At the very least, make a trade that gets more in return, or sends her West where she’s unlikely to hurt you. If she didn’t want to agree to a deal with those parameters, again, the option to just leave her sitting around all summer was still there.
For Cash, this is perfect. I haven’t heard confirmation yet of what kind of contract she actually received from the Dream, but she already has a place there so it’s a smooth transition for her. Basically, she got what she wanted and the whining worked. Even if she ultimately signed a one-year deal just to get out of Chicago, there’ll be another contract waiting for her next year unless she suffers a significant injury. Of course, that was always the case in Chicago as well – veteran stars get well paid for a long time in this league, even if their production has dropped off noticeably.
It works out pretty nicely for Atlanta, too. Cash is by no means a great player, especially at this stage in her career (she’ll turn 35 during this season). She shot 41.5% from the field last year, despite the attention drawn by Fowles, Elena Delle Donne and Epiphanny Prince, and has basically been awful from three-point range every season apart from a freak year in Seattle in 2010. But she’s a veteran presence on a team that has often been dangerously volatile. She can still defend pretty much any forward you ask her to, as she showed last season in allowing Chicago to hide Delle Donne on whichever opposing frontcourt player could do the least damage. In Atlanta, that could allow them to go ‘small’ without Angel McCoughtry having to defend power forwards, which was always the main drawback of that option for the Dream. Basically, Cash helps their fluidity and gives them more options, and simply adds another reliable piece to their rotation. Those aren’t that easy to come by.
For what it’s worth, Courtney Clements is a conscience-less gunner who’s never seen a shot she didn’t love, but produced an abominable 20% from the field last season. The Sky might’ve already cut her by the time you’re reading this.
You’d have to ask Pokey Chatman why she caved and gave up Cash to a conference rival. You might have to get her drunk first if you want a completely honest answer. Fowles’s hip injury was already going to make it tougher for Chicago heading into the 2014 season, and now they’ve lost a second front-court starter. Player power is alive and well in the WNBA. Cash for nothing was a nice price for the Dream.
Grade for Atlanta: B+ – if they gave Cash the contract she wanted in the first place, they might regret it a little in a couple of years, otherwise the deal’s pure profit.
Grade for Cash: A – whining wins.
Grade for Chicago: F – took a stand, then caved for no good reason. There are no positives for Chicago in this move except for not having to listen to Cash any more. Should’ve just bought some earplugs.
Grade for Clements: B – probably would’ve been cut in Atlanta, might survive a year in Chicago just to claim they got something from the Cash deal.