Sun

Sun’s Trades Could Eclipse Championship Window

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When a WNBA Finals team makes offseason trades, usually it’s to obtain the final championship piece.

That makes the Sun’s talent-jettisoning that much more astonishing.

Free agency hadn’t officially begun, but already a solar flare erupted in Connecticut. On January 15th, Rachel Galligan of Winsidr reported that 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones was heading to the New York Liberty as part of a three-team trade.

Jones, of course, has been a staple of the Connecticut Sun’s rise to a perennial contender.

By the end of the 2022 season, Jones was clearly frustrated with the situation in Uncasville. She was a year removed from an MVP campaign. Yet, there were numerous games where she found herself on the bench in the closing minutes.

Between JJ, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, the Sun had a surplus of post players, and JJ’s minutes diminished. She averaged just over five fewer minutes per game than the season prior. Despite the departure of head coach Curt Miller, who now has the same role with the Los Angeles Sparks, JJ still sought a change. ESPN reported that she specifically requested a trade to New York.

In the trade, the Sun received Rebecca Allen (Liberty), Tyasha Harris (Dallas Wings), and the Liberty’s sixth overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Not precisely the haul one might expect when trading a recent MVP. But if JJ wanted out, the Sun didn’t have much leverage in trade talks.

Another Blow

Sun fans didn’t have much time to let the JJ news sink in. Not even 24 hours later, Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV reported that Connecticut had traded Jasmine Thomas to the Los Angeles Sparks. Thomas spent the last eight seasons in Connecticut and was a beloved fan favorite. She’ll be reunited with Miller in Los Angeles. It’s no surprise Thomas was an off-season target for Miller. She’s a tenacious player, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and a veteran leader.

Now the Sun has a hole at point guard, just like they did last year following Thomas’ ACL tear. While Natisha Hiedeman did a fine job in that role, the Sun missed Thomas. Personnel difficulties will likely occur again.

In the Los Angeles trade, the Sun sent their 2023 10th overall pick along with Thomas in exchange for Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker, and rights to Kianna Smith. Smith is expected to miss the 2023 season as she suffered a patella-tendon rupture in December.

Nelson-Ododa has the most potential of the Sun’s acquisitions. She had a solid rookie campaign in 2022 for a floundering Sparks team. Still, Nelson-Ododa averaged just 14.5 minutes per game. Her future in the league is anything but guaranteed. Jasmine Thomas and a first-round draft pick were a hefty price for non-guaranteed WNBA talent.

Is the 6POY Back?

Excluding Breanna Stewart, reigning Sixth Player of the Year Brionna Jones is the most coveted free agent on the market. The Sun wouldn’t be able to afford her as most of their payroll was tied up by JJ, Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Jasmine Thomas. She was expected to head elsewhere. Somewhere that she’d be afforded a max deal, which she’s earned. But now, the assumption is that she’ll remain in Connecticut, with the Sun clearing a lot of that cap space after the two trades.

Heading into free agency, the Sun has $477,355 of cap space left for 3-4 roster spots. That’s assuming DiJonai Carrington, Nia Clouden, Walker and Nelson-Ododa all stay members of the Sun. And one of those spots will likely be utilized by the soon-to-be newly acquired sixth overall pick at $71,300.

In addition, Phillipou reported the Sun intends to core Bri Jones. JJ was previously their core designation.

A core designation doesn’t guarantee anything for Connecticut. It just prevents a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Free-Agency Needs

The inability to space the floor has been an ongoing issue for Connecticut. JJ was the only post player who provided any semblance of floor spacing. The Sun ranked 11th last year in three-point attempts per game. If they bring back Bri Jones, a duo of her and Alyssa Thomas might be the worst floor-spacing combination in recent memory. Jones and Thomas do many feats exceptionally well, but shooting threes isn’t one of them. The two have combined for 13 three-point attempts in the last three seasons.

Allen will help with this issue. She shot 42.6% and 38.1% from three in 2019 and 2021, respectively (she didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic). However, Allen had a down shooting year in 2022 at 31.3% from beyond the arc. Still, she’s someone that one must actively guard beyond the arc.

As previously mentioned, the Sun needs an answer at point guard following the departure of Thomas. They may give Harris the nod. However, it’s just as likely that they let Harris continue to develop as their PG2 and get someone with a little more experience. There’s also Hiedeman, who’s currently a restricted free agent.

Connecticut also requires a reliable perimeter shot creator. It would be a tight squeeze in terms of cap space, and some roster maneuvering would be necessary, but Tiffany Hayes is the best candidate. A lower-profile possibility is Kia Nurse. Of course, Courtney Williams is an unrestricted free agent for the Sun and has her moments as a shot creator. But her steady diet of long-range two-point shots wouldn’t help the Sun’s floor-spacing situation.

What’s Next?

The Sun is in a challenging situation. With a roster still consisting of Alyssa Thomas and Bonner, it’s not likely they’re entirely tanking. Especially if Bri Jones returns, they’ll be able to compete. But finishing in the middle of the pack doesn’t help a franchise’s future going through, at minimum, a fringe rebuild. It’s not likely anyone in the organization will admit it’s a rebuild, but you can’t trade away an MVP and your captain and still claim to compete fully for a championship.

Is a fourth, fifth or sixth-place finish in 2023 worth not acquiring substantial draft capital to build around? The 2023 roster is hazy for the Sun, so that question might be better answered as free agency progresses.

Alyssa Thomas is the only veteran signed through the 2024 season as of now. Assuming Bri Jones returns, she’d join Thomas on the roster. But for Connecticut, it might be time to consider what this team looks like over the next few years instead of just 2023.

All statistics and salary information were obtained from herhoopstats.com.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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