The 2021 WNBA offseason got off to a flying start in the early days of free agency, but things had slowed down considerably once many of the big names were off the board. But on Wednesday, nearly half the league conspired to jump-start the action with a series of stunning trades.
In the span of just a few hours, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft changed hands multiple times and seven players were sent to new teams. There were so many moves made in conjunction with one another that for a brief period of time it wasn’t even clear where everyone was heading.
But now the dust has settled and we have all the details. So let’s break it down and grade each team’s involvement.
Seattle Storm: C-
- Katie Lou Samuelson
- Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
- Stephanie Talbot
- 2022 second-round pick (via Dallas)
- 2022 second-round pick (via New York)
We’ll start with the Storm because they were the most active team on Wednesday, executing four separate deals to move all of their pieces around. In the first deal, they sent Howard to the Liberty for the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, a 2022 first-round pick (via Phoenix) and a 2022 second round pick. Then they sent the 2022 first-round pick (via Phoenix) to the Lynx in exchange for Herbert Harrigan. Next up they traded Whitcomb to the Liberty in exchange for Talbot, and finally, they moved the No. 1 overall pick to the Wings for Samuelson and a 2022 second-round pick.
This has been an… interesting offseason for the Storm. Alysha Clark already left for Washington in free agency, and with Howard and Whitcomb now off to New York, they’ve lost three key members of their title teams from 2018 and 2020. The replacements they’ve brought in aren’t the most inspiring.
Samuelson is now on her third team in three seasons after being the No. 4 overall pick in 2019, Herbert Harrigan showed some flashes as a rookie last season but is still quite young and Talbot is a solid role player but not much more. There’s definitely potential there, especially with Samuelson and Herbert Harrigan, so it’s possible things work out in the long term. But right now the Storm are worse than they were on the final day of last season, and that will make their title defense quite difficult.
New York Liberty: A-
- Natasha Howard
- Sami Whitcomb
- No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft (via Phoenix)
The Liberty participated in three trades on Wednesday, and first sent Kia Nurse and Megan Walker to the Mercury in exchange for the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 Draft and 2022 first-round pick. From there, they sent the No. 1 overall pick and the 2022 first-round pick from the Mercury to the Storm in exchange for Natasha Howard and a 2022 second-round pick. Lastly, they sent Stephanie Talbot to the Storm in exchange for Sami Whitcomb in a separate transaction.
Due to injuries and an extremely young roster, 2020 was essentially a lost year for the Liberty. With these trades, they made sure that wasn’t going to happen again. In Howard, they got a versatile, athletic big who was by far the best player involved in these trades, and in Whitcomb, they got an elite shooter who can help space the floor in their 3-point heavy offensive scheme.
They had to give up a decent amount to get it done, and there’s always a risk when you give up the first pick. But they got much, much better in the short term and have a great chance of ending their franchise-worst playoff drought, which stretches back to 2017.
Phoenix Mercury: B+
The Mercury decided that one trade was enough for them, and they sent the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft and their 2022 first-round pick to the Liberty for Kia Nurse and Megan Walker.
Phoenix entered the offseason in a bit of a tight spot salary cap-wise, and re-signing Diana Taurasi was their only significant move in that department. A trade was always going to be their only avenue to make a meaningful addition, and they certainly pulled one off.
Nurse really struggled in the bubble last summer, but she was playing hurt for a large part of the season and was asked to carry a bad team on the offensive end — something she’s not really equipped to do. In a reduced role she should thrive in Phoenix, where she’ll be able to play off of Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith. They needed depth on the wing and Nurse will make them better. Walker could as well but is much more of a project coming off a disappointing rookie season.
Dallas Wings: A+
- No. 1 overall pick in 2021 WNBA Draft (via New York)
The Wings’ involvement in this whole saga was a trade with the Storm. They sent Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2022 second-round pick in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Already holding the No. 2 pick via the draft lottery, they’re now the first team in WNBA history to have the first two picks in a draft.
This was a brilliant bit of business by the Wings. Samuelson is talented to be sure, but she hasn’t found her way in the WNBA so far and was redundant on a roster that already features Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, Astou Ndour and Isabelle Harrison. Now they have the No. 1 overall pick and can add not only another talented player but a better fit around Sabally and Arike Ogunbowale — two of the brightest young stars in the league.
Dallas was a huge winner here.
Minnesota Lynx: B
- 2022 first-round pick (via Phoenix)
Minnesota only played a bit role on Wednesday, sending Mikiah Herbert Harrigan to the Storm in exchange for a 2022 first-round pick (via Phoenix).
Herbert Harrigan, their first-round pick in last year’s draft, showed a little bit here and there as a rookie, but she figured to be on the outskirts of the rotation this season after Minnesota added Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa in free agency. Instead of letting her just sit on the bench, the Lynx will take another chance in the draft next year.