WNBA Trade Grades 2024: Winners and Losers

WNBA Trade Grades 2024: Winners and Losers

The two teams that met in the 2021 WNBA Finals — when the Chicago Sky knocked off the Phoenix Mercury for the first championship in franchise history — came together on Tuesday to complete the biggest deal of the 2024 WNBA offseason to date. Finals MVP Kahleah Copper is headed to the Valley of the Sun in a deal that nets Chicago the third overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft and a 2026 first-round pick.

Even though the Mercury finished last season with the worst record in the WNBA and the Sky made the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, it’s the Phoenix that are gunning for the win now, with Diana Taurasi in the twilight of her career. Copper is the type of athletic, high-scoring winger that Mercury has long sought to pair with Taurasi and Brittney Griner.

Meanwhile, Chicago is looking to replenish its coffers after last year’s ill-advised sign-and-trade deal that relinquished control of the Sky’s first-round picks through 2026 to Marina Mabrey.

What does this trade mean for both teams and the rest of the league? Who got better value? Let’s break it down.

Getting mercury: Forwards Calais Cooper and Morgan Burch
Heaven gets: Forwards Michaela Onyenwere and Brianna Turner, 2024 No. 3 pick, 2025 second-round pick (via Chicago), 2026 first-round pick and 2nd-round pick (via Phoenix)

Phoenix Mercury: B-

This period in WNBA history reminds me a bit of when the Golden State Warriors added Kevin Durant and other teams, especially in the Western Conference, had to consider challenging the Warriors or wait out their reign. Interestingly, new Phoenix GM Nick U’Ren was in Golden State’s front office at the time.

Like several other WNBA teams, most notably the Seattle Storm featuring Nneka Ogwumike and former Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, the Mercury decided to compete with the star-studded Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty.

To some extent, that was probably inevitable, given Phoenix’s situation. In addition to the ticking clock on Taurasi’s career at 41 years old and Greiner’s start at 33 years old, the Mercury were also facing the loss of control of their 2025 first-round pick after agreeing to trade with the Liberty in the deal that brought Onyenwere to Phoenix last year.

Already, the Mercury added a pair of starters this offseason via free agency in point guard Natasha Cloud and forward Rebecca Allen, the latter acquired in a sign-and-trade for Moriah Jefferson. He brought in the Copper to complement Griner, Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham retained, completing one of the strongest top-six rotations in the league.

The biggest question for Phoenix’s hopes of advancing to the 2024 playoffs will be the team’s health and depth. Taurasi played in 26 games last season and has missed 35 of the Mercury’s 108 games over the past three years. Without her, Phoenix still has five quality players, but the talent is fading quickly.

Depending on how much of a discount Griner would like to receive when he officially re-signs with the Mercury, they may rely on non-veteran minimum players to fill out the roster. Even if Phoenix selects such players, the maximum the team could offer Greiner is just over $150,000. Per Richard Cohen of HerHoopStats.com.

This makes Birch a surprisingly important part of this trade. With one year of experience, Bertsch does not yet qualify for the veteran minimum. She contributed a good 14.2 minutes off the bench for Sky last season. Suge Sutton, who signed her qualifying offer to return to the Mercury, is also on the lower end after averaging 26.3 mpg in 2023, albeit as an ineffective scorer (0.464 true shooting percentage).

The other major question is what level of play will Phoenix get from Taurasi? If she’s willing to move into a complementary role on offense after using 29% of the Mercury’s plays last season, her highest mark since 2011, Taurasi could be a more efficient scorer with more energy to direct to the defensive end of the court.

Copper could help take the scoring burden off Taurasi. Copper averaged a career-high of 18.7 PPG last season, and she has more offensive responsibility with the departure of Chicago’s four other players from a 2022 team that tied for the best record in the league. Cooper’s 2-point percentage took a hit, dropping from 53% to 47% — her lowest since coming off the bench in 2019. However, Cooper was able to make up for it by making a career-high 40% from 3s, It’s a skill that will fit well with Griner’s floor spacing.

The suite spot next to Taurasi has been a revolving door in Phoenix. Kia Nurse was brought in to play small forward in 2021, but the torn ACL she suffered during the semifinals necessitated another trade with the Sky for Diamond DeShields. Last winter, the Mercury replaced DeShields with Onyenwere. Cooper is a better and more accomplished shooter as the WNBA’s leading scorer, making her a huge upgrade in that role — as Phoenix saw firsthand in the 2021 Finals.

The Mercury’s willingness to trade the No. 3 pick after the Storm already dumped this year’s fourth pick is the latest indication that teams don’t expect all eligible talent to declare for the 2024 draft. However, this year’s pick should result in a solid contributor on a rookie contract. Phoenix is ​​giving up its 2026 first-round pick, forcing the Mercury to remain in the same position next year, trying to recruit talent to avoid sending a lottery pick away.

As a result, anything less than a trip to the WNBA semifinals this season would be a disappointing outcome for Phoenix. I would project the Mercury outside of the top four teams in the league, with Seattle sacrificing less depth to add two stars, the Connecticut Sun regaining its core, and the Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream rising by building around draft picks.

Chicago Sky: A-

The first rule of being in a hole is to stop digging. That’s why I have to applaud the Sky for the tough decision to rebuild after losing starters Alanna Smith and Courtney Williams to the Minnesota Lynx in free agency and losing Ogwumike as one of three finalists to sign the former MVP.

Given a pick swap in 2025, Chicago would have overpaid veterans seeking another run at the eighth seed, a move that would leave the Sky out of legitimate contention for a year. Parting ways with Cooper, who developed into a star in Chicago and was part of one of the best teams in franchise history, is undoubtedly painful. However, the Sky now have a first-round pick in every draft going forward after being out of their picks in 2024 and 2026.

It should be encouraging that Chicago was in the mix for Ogwumike, suggesting the franchise is still attracting free agents despite lagging behind in terms of having a dedicated training facility. If the facility’s plans come together and the Sky’s draft shows promise, they could use free agency to find the missing pieces of their puzzle going forward.

Right now, the Wings are the big winner in this trade because they own these swap rights with Chicago. Of the four teams that finished behind the Sky in the standings last year, only the Los Angeles Sparks’ rebuilding project fares worse in 2024. Based on the WNBA’s use of the record over the previous two seasons to determine a lottery position, Chicago could easily enter with the No. 2 spot. -Best odds of earning the No. 1 pick in the 2025 draft and sending that pick to Dallas versus one pick potentially in the back half of the round.

Sky’s closet isn’t completely bare. They return starters Mabry and Elizabeth Williams, and Isabel Harrison should be healthy after missing all of 2023 due to knee surgery. The big challenge for first-year Chicago coach Teresa Witherspoon is finding effective shooting ability to replace the brass. Dana Evans, who is expected to step in at point guard, had a .485 true shooting percentage (TS%) last season. The Sky also brought back DeShields, who missed 2023 with a knee injury and posted a .472 TS% in 2022 in Phoenix.

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