The first major domino of the WNBA offseason fell this weekend, as the Liberty acquired Jonquel Jones from the Sun in a three-team trade. The deal, which also included the Wings, ends Jones’ six-year stint with the Sun, the team that drafted her in 2016.
In the trade, New York acquired Jones and Kayla Thornton from Dallas. In return, Connecticut gets Tyasha Harris from Dallas, plus Rebecca Allen and the No. 6 pick in the 2023 draft from New York. The Wings receive Crystal Dangerfield and Natasha Howard from the Liberty.
Just Women’s Sports assigns a grade to each team based on the deal.
Let’s start with the obvious: The Liberty dominated this trade. They get a former MVP in Jones, who also happens to be one of the league’s most versatile players, as well as a consistent utility player in Thornton.
Howard represents the biggest loss for the Liberty in the deal, not only because of her talent (she’s a two-time All-Star and an excellent defender) but also because of her experience. The 31-year-old forward has three titles to her name.
Still, Jones is an upgrade. Statistically, she is better in nearly every category — and at 6-foot-6, Jones is a walking mismatch on offense and defense. She’s the kind of player that can push a team like the Liberty from barely making the playoffs to winning a title. With stars Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney locked in, and Marine Johannes and Han Xu likely to return, the roster already is in good shape.
And the Liberty could get even better going forward. Jones will take a big chunk of money, but not so much that the Liberty can’t sign another top free agent. That means Breanna Stewart is still on the table. And if she signs with the Liberty – the only other team besides the Storm she met with last offseason – New York will loom even larger in title contention talks.
✔️ 2021 WNBA MVP✔️ 4x WNBA All-Star✔️ 4x All-WNBA Team✔️ 3x WNBA Rebounding Leader✔️ 2x WNBA All-Defensive Team@jus242 is like THAT!🗽 pic.twitter.com/iM8LpeeCF1— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) January 16, 2023
✔️ 2021 WNBA MVP✔️ 4x WNBA All-Star✔️ 4x All-WNBA Team✔️ 3x WNBA Rebounding Leader✔️ 2x WNBA All-Defensive Team@jus242 is like THAT!🗽 pic.twitter.com/iM8LpeeCF1
This is an A trade for the Wings as well. With Allisha Gray rumored to be on the move at some point this offseason, adding another guard in Dangerfield (albeit not one of Gray’s caliber) is good for the Wings.
With Howard, the nine-year veteran, Dallas gets a solid scorer, rebounder and defender. Last year’s Wings team was led by guards, as Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey and Gray were the top three scorers. Adding a post player to the scoring mix will give Dallas a more versatile attack and another scoring option if/when Gray leaves.
Expect a lot more movement on the Wings’ roster before the offseason ends, as Isabelle Harrison and Teaira McCowan are both free agents (Harrison unrestricted, McCowan restricted). The addition of Howard gives the team room to negotiate.
🧡🧡 Thank You Connecticut 🧡🧡 pic.twitter.com/NlTjM6J6Dx— Jonquel Jones (@jus242) January 16, 2023
🧡🧡 Thank You Connecticut 🧡🧡 pic.twitter.com/NlTjM6J6Dx
The majority of the time, if you trade a former MVP who also happens to be your best player, you’re not on the winning side of the deal. But the Sun didn’t have much choice when it came to dealing Jonquel Jones, and that’s the only reason this grade is a D+ and not a D or an F.
There have been rumors swirling in the WNBA space for a while now about Jones being ready to move on from the Sun. She re-signed last season, but after coming up short in the WNBA Finals and going through a coaching change, it makes sense that she wants to get a fresh start with a new franchise. And according to Rachel Galligan of Winsidr and Just Women’s Sports, Jones told the Sun that the Liberty was the team she wanted to join.
Jones would have been a free agent next offseason if she stayed in Connecticut, so the Sun had no choice but to get a deal done. If they chose not to honor her wishes, Jones likely would sit out or remain unhappy throughout the 2023 season only to walk in free agency, leaving the Sun with nothing to show for their 2021 MVP. They had to get something in return for Jones.
Still, a fanbase won’t be thrilled with a “it-could-have-been-worse” mindset, and they shouldn’t be. The hope was, of course, to keep Jones. But now, the Sun have to turn their attention to keeping Brionna Jones, one of the top free agents in the league. Losing both players would equal a disastrous offseason.
As for the Sun’s return in the trade, Harris has been a traditional, pass-first guard in her first three years, all spent in Dallas. Her numbers have stayed consistent since her rookie season in 2020, but she hasn’t had a breakout season. If she does, then the trade looks a bit better for the Sun.
Allen is a career 36.9% 3-point shooter, and after spending seven seasons with the Liberty, she brings a veteran presence to Connecticut. The Sun also need shooters, as without Jonquel Jones, they only have one player who gets consistent minutes and shoots over 35%. As far as role players go, Allen is a good get.