WNBA trade takeaways: How Jonquel Jones trade impacts Breanna Stewart's potential move

Saturday, January 21, 2023

WNBA free agency hasn't even begun, but the league has been turned upside down by two huge trades that were announced Monday: Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP, was traded to the New York Liberty as part of a three-team deal, and her former Connecticut Sun teammate Jasmine Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks.

The trades include Tyasha Harris, Rebecca Allen, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker and the rights of Kianna Smith all being traded to Connecticut, the Dallas Wings acquiring Natasha Howard and the rights to Crystal Dangerfield, and Kayla Thornton being traded from the Wings to the Liberty.

Los Angeles also now owns the No. 10 pick in the 2023 WNBA draft (from Connecticut), while the Sun acquired New York's first-round pick (No. 6 overall).

A source also told ESPN that the Sun intend to designateBrionna Jonesa core player; Friday is the last date teams can offer that designation.

There are surely plenty of deals to come, not to mention more movement when free agents can officially sign deals beginning Feb. 1. But for now, ESPN's Kevin Pelton, M.A. Voepel and Alexa Philippou share their analysis on what this pair of trades means for each individual team involved and the league as a whole.

What does the Jonquel Jones trade mean for the Liberty's chances of signing Breanna Stewart?

Only Stewart can answer that, but the structure of the trade opens up the possibility of the Liberty building a superteam with two of the past three MVPs. Because New York sent out more salary than it took back in the deal, the Liberty's cap space has increased to more than $400,000, based on salary data from HerHoopStats.com -- easily enough to make a max offer ($202,154) to Stewart or another free agent.

Additionally, New York managed to retain a tradable first-round pick that could be sent to the Seattle Storm if Stewart wants a larger supermax deal ($234,936) that would require negotiating a sign-and-trade.

We don't have to envision what a team with Jones and Stewart would be like. They played together for EuroLeague champion UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2020-21 along with Brittney Griner, Emma Meesseman, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. The lineup was so loaded that Jones typically came off the bench months before winning WNBA MVP, though she still averaged 12.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Because WNBA free agency was largely sleepy before the current collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2020, there's no real precedent for this kind of NBA-style team-up of MVPs in their primes. (Jones just turned 29; Stewart is 28.) The closest was probably Sylvia Fowles requesting a trade to the Minnesota Lynx, joining MVP Maya Moore. However, Fowles didn't actually win MVP until she was in Minnesota.

Add in another young All-Star in former No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu and the Liberty could become the most talented team in the league -- if they're able to convince Stewart to sign in New York after taking a meeting with the team last offseason. -- Pelton

Is the Sun's championship window still open?

It's difficult to imagine a Sun team without Jonquel Jones -- considered by many a top-three player in the world -- having a realistic shot at a championship. Recent data from Pivot Analysis illustrated how Jones was Connecticut's most impactful player in four of the past five seasons (not including her opt-out year in 2020). That said, Connecticut didn't appear to have much of a choice in Jones' departure (ESPN previously reported that she requested a trade to New York specifically), and given how the league is structured, the return on her trade was likely not going to be equitable to what was lost.

So now the Sun decide to prioritize re-signing Brionna Jones, who's expected to be cored. As the roster currently stands, they will be building around Brionna Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, with a ton of young players surrounding them (their only newcomers on protected contracts are Allen and Harris). Allen will provide perimeter shooting, something that has been the Sun's Achilles' heel the past few seasons.

While Jasmine Thomas is coming off an ACL tear and has more years behind her than in front of her in the WNBA, these transactions appear to indicate the Sun are looking at Harris -- who's young and relatively unproven -- and Natisha Hiedeman -- should she stay in Connecticut -- to run the point. The organization extended a qualifying offer to Hiedeman last week, but she could still end up on another team.

It's unclear how much Brionna Jones' contract would end up being with the Sun, but if it's the supermax, Connecticut would have just over $170,000 remaining to sign one or two players (not including Hiedeman), if the cap situation stands as it is now. So Connecticut could sign at least one impactful free agent, and with additional maneuvering perhaps even more. -- Philippou

The Wings have been involved in a lot of trades and transactions. Are they really making themselves better?

It remains to be seen. The franchise moved to Dallas to become the Wings in 2016, and is now on its fifth coach (counting an interim) there. During that time, Greg Bibb has been the executive in charge of making moves. The question is how in concert those moves have been with the coaching philosophies.

Skylar Diggins-Smith wanted out before the 2020 season and pushed for a trade to the Phoenix Mercury that netted three draft picks. From that, only Ty Harris (three seasons) and Bella Alarie (two seasons) have played any significant time for Dallas. Alarie didn't play at all last season, and now Harris has been dealt to Connecticut.

Then in 2021, the Wings traded Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2022 second-round pick to get the No. 1 pick in the weak 2021 draft, when they already had the No. 2 selection. They took Texas Longhorns center Charli Collier first, but she has yet to make an impact.

Now Dallas has traded to add Howard and Dangerfield to a team that lost 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs to Connecticut last season and has Latricia Trammell as its newest coach. It has been rumored that Allisha Gray, who was the Wings' top draft pick at No. 4 in 2017, wants out of Dallas. And the Wings have decisions to make involving players such as Marina Mabrey and Teaira McCowan, who are both restricted free agents.

Did this latest trade make Dallas' playing rotations for 2023 any clearer? Or did the Wings just pick up more puzzle pieces without being fully sure how they will fit together? -- Voepel

What does Monday's trade mean for the Sparks' rebuild?

The Sparks faced a fascinating situation entering free agency with a slew of free agent veterans, a lot of younger talent on unprotected contracts and just two players (Samuelson and Chennedy Carter) on protected deals.

While the upside of their youth could have been part of the foundation for their rebuild, the Sparks decided to trade Nelson-Ododa, Walker and Smith and bring in a veteran point guard with one year left on her contract (Jasmine Thomas), which seems especially noteworthy given Sparks guards Lexie Brown, Jordin Canada, Brittney Sykes and Kristi Toliver are free agents. No doubt new Sparks coach Curt Miller was thrilled with signing Thomas, his former longtime point guard in Uncasville. Another plus is the Sparks got Connecticut's first-round pick after trading theirs away in the deal that brought Carter to L.A. last year.

That said, there's so much else we don't know about L.A.'s situation yet that it's impossible to fully understand the ceiling or floor of this group, even if, for example, Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike both return as anticipated. As the franchise with the most cap space heading into the new year, it's likely the Sparks' big moves aren't done. -- Philippou