The biggest news of the WNBA’s draft night this year had nothing to do with the players being selected. The Connecticut Sun had the #1 overall pick, and everyone had known Chiney Ogwumike was heading there from the moment the lottery ping-pong balls handed it to them. But the Sun still managed to be involved in the central story of the night, sending malcontented star center Tina Charles to the New York Liberty for center Kelsey Bone, the #4 pick (which immediately became Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas), and New York’s first-round pick in next year’s draft.
Charles being traded wasn’t really a big surprise. Last season in Connecticut was an absolute disaster, with several players upset about Mike Thibault being fired as head coach, Anne Donovan unable to take control or win key players over after being handed the reins, and then various injuries (and ‘injuries’) piling on top. As a result, a franchise that had won 25 games and been inches away from the WNBA Finals in 2012, finished with the worst record in the league and became a punchline in 2013.
Charles herself had a dismal season last year. She looked half-interested much of the time (at best), and reluctant to join the scrap under the basket when she had limited help around her. Donovan’s schemes, which seemed to encourage her to play further away from the basket, didn’t help. The raw numbers of 18 points and 10 rebounds per game were pretty impressive in a strange way – Charles was still piling them up even while playing on auto-pilot. The 40% field-goal percentage, for a freaking center, was staggeringly atrocious.
Some of her quotes towards the end of last season showed how unhappy she was with the way the year had gone, and hinted at a wish to get out – or to sit out. As always, that’s the primary negotiating tool for any WNBA player remotely near star-level. They make significantly more money overseas, so simply sitting out the WNBA season to rest their bodies before heading back to Europe or Asia is always an option. More often, it’s a threat. Trade me (sometimes ‘trade me to the specific city I want to play in’) or I just won’t play, has become a fairly common refrain around the WNBA.