Sun

Hayes Trade May Keep Sun Ablaze

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A Husky just found her way home.

The Connecticut Sun announced on Feb. 15th that they signed former UConn star Tiffany Hayes to a one-year contract.

The veteran guard, who won two NCAA championships under Geno Auriemma, has spent all ten of her WNBA seasons with the Atlanta Dream. On Feb. 9, Winsidr‘s Rachel Galligan reported a near-finalized trade to send Hayes from the Dream to the Sun in return for the sixth pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft.

Over her career in the Peach State, Hayes averaged 13.8 points per game on 43% shooting. She also helped lead the Dream to five playoff appearances, including a trip to the WNBA Finals in 2013.

The elite guard will impact a Connecticut team that needs both her scoring and leadership. Hayes signed with the Sun just weeks after the departure of 2021 league MVP Jonquel Jones and veteran point guard Jasmine Thomas.

But what exactly does she bring to this Sun team?

The Sun of the Past

Connecticut’s identity largely depended on its dominance of the glass and transition game.

The Sun led the league with 37.1 rebounds per game during the 2022 season. They’ve been in the top three in rebounding every year since 2017. 2017 is also — non-coincidentally — the first year Jonquel Jones started for the Sun. She set a league record in rebounds per game at 11.85 that season. A record broken a season later by WNBA legend, Sylvia Fowles.

The Sun’s proficiency at grabbing boards will likely drop with Jones gone. They’ll need to find other ways to win.

Enter Hayes.

Filling a Need

Few players in the WNBA are more adept at scoring off the dribble than Hayes.

She has elite body control and a knack for finishing at the rim, primarily through contact. Her acrobatic finishes have been the center of many a highlight reel.

Although a dangerous team in transition — thanks mainly to the All-Star Alyssa Thomas‘s facilitating abilities — Connecticut’s half-court offense was noticeably stagnant and inefficient at times. The Sun needed a guard who could force her way through a defense’s seams and get a bucket or draw a foul. Hayes brings precisely that ability.

Another weakness of a frontcourt-dominant Sun team was their three-point shooting. They finished second to last in the league in three-point field goals made in the 2022 regular season with just 230, 119 behind league-leader New York Liberty.

Although Hayes’ abilities from beyond the arc won’t excessively startle you, she’s shot the three ball fairly efficiently over her past two seasons, averaging 41.7% from downtown. She also proved streaky, often having multiple games where she makes four or five treys.

Hayes will likely start for Connecticut along with point guard Natisha Hiedeman and returning All-Stars DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones. With the formation of super teams in Las Vegas and New York, it’s unclear how the Sun will match up against such opponents.

Adding Hayes makes the Sun a championship contender once again, however.

Cap Space

Hayes signed a one-year, unprotected contract for $162,477 with the Sun, per Her Hoop Stats. This is a significant decrease in pay in comparison to what she was making in Atlanta, where she signed for $215,000 for the 2022 season.

The WNBA has a strict salary cap, so it was the most money the Sun could offer while still leaving space for a required 11th player. With just $62,285 left in cap space, Connecticut can afford to sign one of the many players they invited to training camp. Perhaps former Baylor All-American Lauren Cox or their third-round pick in this year’s draft.

Veteran contracts are typically protected, especially for players as decorated as Hayes. That means the player’s contract cannot be removed from a team’s cap sheet, making it unlikely her team will release her. So Hayes’ unprotected contract is a bit of an oddity.

She has been injury-prone at times. Unfortunately, she missed four games in 2022 due to a right ankle ailment. Hayes is also a naturalized citizen of Azerbaijan and left Atlanta prematurely last season to compete for the Azerbaijani national team.

Until the Season Begins

Hayes currently plays overseas for Turkish club CBK Mersin Yenisehir Bld with her soon-to-be WNBA teammate, DeWanna Bonner. Hayes and Bonner average 15.2 and 15.0 points per game, respectively, for their club.

Following the news of her trade, the Florida native took to Instagram, leaving a heartfelt message.

“10/11 years in Atlanta…I am so grateful… Having the opportunity to play in front of my family & friends in a place I consider home has been incredible and a dream come true. I had this thing where I wanted to be the second rounder who stayed on the same team her whole career… God has other plans for me & some things just aren’t meant to be.”

About Ethan Arcata

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