With the WNBA world preparing for the start of free agency next week (the player negotiation period begins on Saturday, Jan. 21, and contracts can be officially signed on Feb. 1), the Connecticut Sun decided not to wait and executed a pair of trades to start rebuilding their roster ahead of the 2023 season.
Here is the full breakdown of the two trades that were made official on Monday, Jan. 16.
Three Team Deal Sends Jonquel Jones to New York
- New York Gets: Jonquel Jones (from CON) and Kayla Thornton (from DAL)
- Connecticut Gets: Rebecca Allen, the No. 6 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft (from NYL), and Tyasha Harris (from DAL)
- Dallas Gets: Natasha Howard and reserved rights to Crystal Dangerfield (from NYL)
Sun-Sparks Trade Sends Jasmine Thomas to Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Gets: Jasmine Thomas and the No. 10 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft (from CON)
- Connecticut Gets: Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker, and the rights to Kianna Smith (from LAS)
The blockbuster move sends 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to New York to team with Sabrina Ionescu and a Liberty team still with enough cap space to pursue the biggest free agent target of the year: Seattle’s Breanna Stewart.
After dealing their franchise center to the Liberty, the Sun sent starting point guard (who missed most of last season with a torn ACL) to Los Angeles, joining former Sun coach Curt Miller with the Sparks.
MVPs on the Move
Jones is only the third former MVP to be traded, joining Tina Charles (2012 MVP with Connecticut, traded to New York) and Elena Delle Donne (2015 MVP with Chicago, traded to Washington in 2017). It must be noted that all three trades came by request of the former MVP looking for a new start in their respective careers.
In total, six former MVPs have played for other teams, with the other three signing as free agents: Sheryl Swoopes (three-time MVP with Houston) and Yolanda Griffith (one-time MVP with Sacramento) signed with Seattle in 2008, and Candace Parker (two-time MVP with Los Angeles) signed with Chicago in 2021.
As we broke down in our look at this year’s top free agent targets, there are five former MVP winners that will be on the market to either re-sign with their current team or find a new home for 2023: the aforementioned Parker, Charles, and Stewart (2018 with Seattle), as well as Diana Taurasi (2009 MVP with Phoenix) and Nneka Ogwumike (2016 with Los Angeles).
What these moves mean for Connecticut
This Jonquel Jones trade brings a sense of déjà vu for Connecticut as Charles won MVP honors for the Sun in 2012, then two years later requested a trade to New York, which the Sun executed – a blockbuster deal that brought Alyssa Thomas to the Sun along with Kelsey Bone and a first-round draft pick (Elizabeth Williams was selected).
Fast forward nine years, and we see the same scenario play out for the Sun as Jones won her MVP in 2021, then requested a trade, specifically to New York, and the Sun made the move. When the Sun were faced with this scenario before, it landed them a franchise pillar in Alyssa Thomas; will they have the same luck this time around with the additions of Allen, Harris, and the player they select at No. 6 come April?
It has also been reported that with the departure of Jonquel Jones, the Sun may plan to core and sign free agent Brionna Jones – last year’s Sixth Player of the Year, who is clearly ready for a starting role. With Brionna potentially sliding into Jonquel’s starting role alongside Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner on the frontline, the biggest questions remain in the backcourt. After losing both Jasmine Thomas and Bria Hartley to season-ending knee injuries, Natisha Hiedeman assumed the starting point guard duties for the Sun, but she is a free agent, as is starting shooting guard Courtney Williams. The Sun did add Harris from the Wings in the three-team deal for Jonquel Jones to give them another guard, but the Sun could look for more backcourt depth in free agency or the draft.
With Thomas, Jones, and Miller, the Sun had an incredible run of sustained success – posting a league-best 126-66 (.656) record over the past six regular seasons. Unfortunately, there were unable to translate that into a championship, losing in the Finals in 2019 and 2022. The Sun will look to keep things going with a new head coach (Stephanie White) as well as a new starting point guard and center.
What these moves mean for New York
Simply put, the Liberty got the best player in either trade by landing Jonquel Jones, who is not only a former MVP, Sixth Player of the Year, and Most Improved Player, she is widely regarded as a top-five player in the world right now. And while it cost them three players and a draft pick to complete the deal, it is still a slam dunk win for New York.
While Jones is the key piece in this deal, don’t sleep on Kayla Thornton, bringing a defensive mentality and physicality that can help any team looking to make a deep playoff run.
Of course, adding another former MVP to the roster would vault the Liberty to championship contenders. A year ago, Breanna Stewart (an upstate New York native) met with the Liberty as a free agent before ultimately deciding to return to Seattle on a one-year deal. Stewart is the top target of not just the Liberty and Storm; every team in the league would make the moves necessary to add Stewart to their roster.
The Liberty have the cap space to sign Stewart outright. They also have a first-round pick and young players on rookie contracts to add to a potential sign-and-trade deal with the Storm if that is the route things go this summer. If Stewart decides to remain in Seattle or sign elsewhere, the Liberty can use their cap room to add another top free agent on the market.
What these moves mean for Dallas
In Howard, the Wings add a three-time WNBA champion – she won the 2017 title with Minnesota as well as the 2018 and 2020 titles with Seattle – two-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year. In 2022, Howard averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds, which ranked 14th and 10th in the league, respectively, for the Liberty. She is a big that runs the floor well and has the ability to defend multiple positions.
Dangerfield is a young point guard that flashed brilliance as a rookie in 2020 in Minnesota, averaging 16.2 points on 47% shooting and 3.6 assists to become the lowest-drafted player ever to win Rookie of the Year. Her scoring and shooting dropped off in her second season as she was primarily used as a reserve. She was waived by Minnesota ahead of the 2022 season before signing with Indiana for three games before joining New York for the remainder of the season. In 30 games with the Liberty, Dangerfield averaged 5.4 points and 2.5 assists in 22 minutes per game.
The Wings have some key decisions to make this offseason – they can match any offer that restricted free agents Marina Mabrey and Teaira McCowan received – and there are reports that they are on the verge of trading 2017 Rookie of the Year and six-season starter Allisha Gray before she enters the final season of her contract.
What these moves mean for Los Angeles
Jasmine Thomas was Curt Miller’s point guard in his first season in Connecticut in 2016, and she will be his point guard in his first season in Los Angeles in 2023. Of course, that is assuming a full recovery from last May’s ACL tear that limited Thomas to only five games. While the Sun made it to the WNBA Finals with Thomas sidelined, her veteran presence was missed in critical moments throughout that series and the postseason.
Thomas becomes only the third protected contract on the Sparks – joining Katie Lou Samuelson and Chennedy Carter – as the Sparks are just getting started in building out their roster for 2023. The trade to acquire Thomas cost the Sparks a number of promising young players, with Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker, and the rights to Kianna Smith headed to Connecticut.
The Sparks have seven veteran unrestricted free agents that they must decide to either try to re-sign or let them go; that list is headlined by one of the five former MVPs on the market this year in Nneka Ogwumike, along with her sister Chiney, guards Kristi Toliver, Jordin Canada, Brittney Sykes, Lexie Brown, and center Amanda Zahui B.
Longtime WNBA reporter Brian Martin writes articles on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.