In a series of big trades Wednesday in the WNBA, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft ended up in Dallas, while New York obtained star forward Natasha Howard in a sign-and-trade deal from defending champion Seattle.
The Liberty had the No. 1 pick in 2020 and took Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu, who was lost for most of the 2020 season with an ankle injury. The Liberty finished last in the WNBA, then won the 2021 draft lottery in December.
Wednesday, the Liberty traded that No. 1 pick to Seattle in the Howard deal. Howard, 29, was a starter for the Storm's 2018 and 2020 WNBA championship teams. Indiana's No. 5 pick in the 2014 draft out of Florida State, Howard played previously with the Fever and Minnesota (winning a title as a reserve with the Lynx in 2017) before hitting her stride as a starter with the Storm. As a designated core player for Seattle, she had to approve the trade to New York.
Then Seattle flipped that No. 1 pick to Dallas in exchange for former UConn forward Katie Lou Samuelson and the Wings' 2022 second-round draft pick. Samuelson will be reunited with former Huskies teammates Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck with the Storm. Another UConn alum, 17-year veteran and four-time league champion Sue Bird, is expected to re-sign soon with Seattle.
Texas post player Charli Collier, a draft-eligible junior, is projected by many to be the top selection in April's draft if she opts to leave college early, which would give Dallas the chance to add the Texas native to its roster. The Wings picked at Nos. 2 (Satou Sabally, Oregon), 5 (Bella Alarie, Princeton) and 7 (Tyasha Harris, South Carolina) in 2020.
"The opportunity to acquire the top pick in a draft does not present itself very often," Dallas president and CEO Greg Bibb said. "By securing this pick, we will ensure our ability to draft the player at the top of our draft list while having additional draft assets at our disposal to further improve our team."
The No. 1 pick has been traded one other time before the draft in WNBA history. In January 2010, Minnesota dealt the top selection that year and Renee Montgomery to Connecticut for Lindsay Whalen and the No. 2 pick. The Sun chose future MVP Tina Charles of UConn with that 2010 No. 1 pick. On draft day in 2007, Phoenix took Duke's Lindsey Harding at No. 1, and then shortly after traded her to Minnesota.
In other moves Wednesday, the Liberty dealt two other former UConn standouts, guard Kia Nurse and forward Megan Walker, to Phoenix for the No. 6 pick in the 2021 WNBA draft and a 2022 first-round pick. Nurse was the No. 10 pick in the 2018 draft, and Walker the No. 9 pick in 2020.
And in a separate deal with Seattle, the Liberty also acquired guard Sami Whitcomb in a sign-and-trade in exchange for the rights to forward Stephanie Talbot.
The other trade on Wednesday involved last year's No. 6 pick, forward Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan out of South Carolina, who went to Seattle from Minnesota. The Lynx obtained the 2022 first-round draft pick that the Storm had gotten via Phoenix in the three-team deal that included Nurse and Walker.
After winning just two games last season, the Liberty were looking for experience to add to their young roster. They got that with Howard, the 2019 WNBA defensive player of the year, and Whitcomb, one of the league's better perimeter shooters.
"We have the privilege of welcoming multiple-time WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb," Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said. "The magnitude of Natasha choosing to be in New York cannot be overstated. She is an All-WNBA talent who has worked for and earned everything that she has achieved, who has contributed to championship runs on multiple teams, and who will fit seamlessly into [coach] Walt Hopkins' system."
Phoenix, which re-signed 16-year veteran Diana Taurasi in free agency, will add even more of a UConn flavor to its roster with Nurse and Walker. They already have guards Taurasi and Bria Hartley.
"With a hard salary cap and great parity in our league, you rarely get the opportunity to add a 24-year-old All-Star, much less a player whose skill set and temperament fits seamlessly with our roster," Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said. "Kia Nurse was our top acquisition target this off-season because of her outside shooting, aggressiveness off the dribble, size and versatility on defense, and competitiveness.
"If Megan Walker had stayed for her senior season at UConn, we believe that she would have been considered among the top prospects of the 2021 draft class. She shot over 45% from 3-point range her last year in college, is shooting better than 40% from three in Europe this offseason, and has the potential to be an important part of our roster in 2021."