All The Right Moves?

It's the eve of the 2007 WNBA Playoffs and thus the perfect time to evaluate the major moves teams made in hopes of bettering their squads for ‘07 and beyond.

Before the season and even during the current campaign some franchises felt the need to rejuvenate their rosters by making some bold, team-altering decisions. As a result, some of the game's bigger names switched jerseys. In fact, three participants in this year's All-Star Game were on different teams a year prior.

So without further ado, here's a deal-by-deal breakdown spelling out what resulted for the parties involved. The focus here is on changes made by teams in terms of trades and free agent additions, not so much through re-signings or original draft picks.

The San Antonio Silver Stars acquire Becky Hammon and a second-round pick in 2008 from the New York Liberty in exchange for the rights to 2007 No. 2 draft pick Jessica Davenport and a first-round pick in 2008.

The obvious reaction to this move is that the Silver Stars made out like bandits in prying away a four-time All-Star that could very well be the 2007 WNBA MVP. Hammon’s third in the league in scoring (19.1 ppg), first in assists (5.1 apg), second in free-throw shooting (.950) and ninth in three-point percentage (.416). More important, she’s been the catalyst for a Silver Stars team that is already seven wins better than 2006 and has clinched its first ever playoff berth since moving to the Alamo City.

Tangela Smith, acquired by Phoenix in April, has averaged 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season.
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But the Liberty haven’t been too shabby without Hammon either. The team is contending for a postseason spot in the last week of the season even though most saw the move as New York collecting and fostering young talent in the hope of building a solid core for the future. Sure, Davenport hasn’t been lighting the world on fire (she is a rookie), but other players have been taking advantage of their increased roles with Hammon out of the mix. Players like Erin Thorn, Cathrine Kraayeveld, Loree Moore and Ashley Battle have all seen more minutes and shots and responded with more production.

Plus, New York hadn’t won much with Hammon in the past few years anyway. A fresh start was probably necessary for everyone involved.

The Minnesota Lynx acquire the rights to 2007 No. 1 draft pick Lindsey Harding from the Phoenix Mercury in exchange for Tangela Smith.

Well, if you want to go by 2007 record, it would appear the 21-11 Mercury got the better of the swap with the 8-24 Lynx. But Minnesota’s motivation in making this deal was in snatching a franchise cornerstone that will pay off a couple years down the road, not necessarily in ‘07. Still, Harding averaged 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 contests – starting each one -- and was the unquestioned favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year before tearing her ACL in mid July. And with the Lynx likely to have a high pick in the 2008 draft, Minnesota could soon have another young superstar to go along with Harding and Seimone Augustus. Not a bad plan of attack.

On the flip side, the Mercury didn’t want to get any younger; they wanted to get bigger and more experienced, so that’s what they did in acquiring Smith, now in her 10th WNBA season. It’s hard to argue with that decision since the Mercury currently own the top record in the West and are also the league’s hottest team entering the upcoming playoffs.

The San Antonio Silver Stars sign Erin Buescher.

The Silver Stars signed Buecher as a restricted free agent away from Sacramento as part of their roster revamp in the offseason. The move was paying off like gangbusters until a torn ACL sidelined her for the season in mid July, as she was averaging career-bests in points (11.3), rebounds (6.1), assists (2.2) and steals (1.9). The setback also occurred just as Buescher was stepping up her game. Days prior she had been named Western Conference Player of the Week for July 2-8 in helping San Antonio reach the top of the West standings.

Since Buescher went down, the Silver Stars have gone a respectable 8-6, proving that they are deeper than most assumed. But San Antonio could very well miss Buescher’s veteran presence in the playoffs. It remains to be seen how Buescher will recover from the injury, but considering that she’s still just 28 years old, there’s a good chance she’ll reclaim her past effectiveness in years to come.

The Chicago Sky acquire Chasity Melvin from the Washington Mystics in exchange for Monique Currie.

Through the first four games of the 2007 season the Sky were 1-3 and getting outrebounded in nearly every game. That sparked a trade for Melvin, who put up double-doubles in three of her first four games with Chicago. The Sky also won four of their first six games with Melvin in the lineup to spark their season turnaround. In 29 games – 25 starts – for Chicago this season, Melvin has averaged 9.9 points and 6.7 rebounds, which is good for second-best on the team.

Currie, on the other hand, has provided the Mystics with a nice scoring presence that can create her own shot and take the defensive pressure off Alana Beard and Delisha Milton-Jones. While Currie’s point totals have been inconsistent at times, she is still shooting an impressive 48 percent from the field since joining Washington.

An added bonus for the Mystics is that Melvin’s departure has given Nakia Sanford the opportunity to start. The fifth-year center has averaged 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds – both career-bests – while shooting .530 from the floor in 32 games -- 29 starts -- for Washington.

The Los Angeles Sparks acquire Taj McWillaims-Franklin from the Connecticut Sun in exchange for the rights to Erika DeSouza and a first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2007 draft.

Earlier in the season, this move seemed like a totally regrettable one for the Sun. After shipping away its perennial All-Star forward in the offseason, Connecticut stumbled to a 5-10 start and found itself in danger of falling out of playoff contention before the All-Star break. The only silver lining was that Asjha Jones blossomed in her new role as starter and was rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game.

Now, the Sun have seemingly learned to play without McWilliams-Franklin, as a strong second half has assured them a spot in the playoffs and a title run is once again a real possibility. So the pain has been lessened.

DeSouza has been solid in her role off the bench, but doesn’t come close to filling the big sneakers left behind by McWilliams-Franklin. And Kamesha Hairston, who the Sun selected with the 12th pick, has seen little action off the pine in her rookie season, averaging just 8.5 minutes in17 games.

McWilliams-Franklin has been predictably dominant out in LA, earning yet another All-Star selection and averaging 11.4 points and 6.0 boards. But with Lisa Leslie out for the season and Chamique Holdsclaw’s sudden retirement back in June, this year has been a struggle for the Sparks. However, Leslie’s impending return in ’08 and eventual pairing up front with McWilliams-Franklin should help LA quickly forget about the recent tough times.

The Chicago Sky sign Dominique Canty.

Overall, Canty’s production this season has been comparable to her previous two with Houston. The veteran has come in and solidified Chicago’s starting point guard position, which has taken pressure off Jia Perkins, who held the job last year, and allowed her to develop as more of a scoring threat off the bench. Canty is currently averaging 4.1 assists per game -- by far the best clip of her career.

The Houston Comets sign Crystal Smith, Tamecka Dixon and Hamchétou Maïga-Ba.

Since returning to Houston midway through the season, Dixon has provided the Comets with a much-needed spark, averaging 11.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. And she’s done it all while coming off the bench. Smith and Maiga-Ba have also been surprising contributors, but all three made their impacts much too late for Houston, which will be home for the playoffs thanks in large part to a 0-10 start.

The Los Angeles Sparks sign LaToya Thomas, Marta Fernandez.

Fernandez has been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises this season, while Thomas has been a bit of a disappointment. Fernandez, technically a rookie at age 25, has come over from Spain and averaged 8.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.2 rebounds to make herself a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year. As a result, Fernandez suddenly figures into a solid nucleus that should make the Sparks a threat in ’08.

Ruth Riley is hoping to win her third championship ring, but her first with the Silver Stars.
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Thomas, who had spent the last three seasons with San Antonio, has averaged just 7.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 18.0 minutes – all on pace to be career-lows – during her first year with L.A.

The Indiana Fever sign Tammy Sutton-Brown.

Plain and simple, adding Sutton-Brown has helped Indiana reach the elite in the East. The center joined the team as a free agent in the offseason, not as part of the Sting dispersal draft, and has been a nice compliment to Tamika Catchings on the front line. Sutton-Brown is currently second on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.5 rpg), first in blocks (1.34 bpg) and was a member of the East All-Star squad back in July.

The Detroit Shock trade Ruth Riley to the San Antonio Silver Stars for Katie Feenstra.

Riley’s numbers are slightly down from last year in scoring and rebounding, but she’s third in the league in blocks with 1.90 per game and has started 28 of 29 games played for the Silver Stars this season.

Like Riley, Feenstra has experienced a dip in her numbers this season, but playing for the deep defending champs has caused the center to see much less time on the court. Feenstra has received more opportunities recently though with Cheryl Ford, Swin Cash and Kara Braxton all missing games and proved to be a valuable asset. In the last four games alone she has posted a pair of double-doubles.

The Chicago Sky trade Chelsea Newton and the 21st pick in the 2007 draft to the Sacramento Monarchs for the 10th pick in the 2007 draft.

Newton has started all 32 games for the mighty Monarchs this season, but her numbers haven’t been anything to write home about. She’s averaged 6.4 points while shooting 37 percent from the field. Still, the Monarchs brought her back mainly because she’s one of the best straight-up defenders in the league and her unselfish approach seems to help the team’s chemistry.

Carla Thomas, who the Sky selected with the 10th pick, has played in only 15 games this season and averaged 7.0 minutes and 2.7 points. But it’s likely too early to tell whether the Vanderbilt product will pan out.

The Detroit Shock sign Shannon Johnson.

Like Feenstra, Johnson’s role has been limited with Detroit, although she did receive a string of starts earlier this season when Ford was initially sidelined. Unlike her days with San Antonio and Connecticut, Johnson is playing off the ball a lot, therefore her assists and scoring are down. But she still provides the Shock with versatility and experience, which allows Bill Laimbeer to use an array of lineups.

The Connecticut Sun sign Evina Maltsi.

Like Fernandez, Maltsi is a rookie that isn’t really a rookie, having worked on her craft for many years overseas before catching on in the WNBA. Maltsi has proved to be a critical in-season addition for the Sun, who were looking for some scoring punch midway through the season while Nykesha Sales struggled through various injuries. With Sales working her way back into the flow, Maltsi has embraced her role as a sharpshooter off the bench.

The Los Angeles Sparks trade Lisa Willis to the New York Liberty for Sherill Baker.

Willis hasn’t gotten much of a chance to crack the guard-heavy Liberty rotation since joining New York, but Baker has seen an increase in minutes and production since heading west. Baker has started nine of the 22 games she has played for the Sparks and averaged solid numbers of 8.1 points, 3.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals.