Any sort of trade demand that goes public will erode whatever leverage a team has in negotiating a deal, but Katie Smith's specific request to be sent to the Seattle Storm had to make things particularly difficult for the Washington Mystics.
Not only were the Storm a team with little incentive to make any trade involving significant role players as the reigning WNBA champions, but they would also have to dump salary to even add a veteran contract under the salary cap. One might have easily though that the Mystics would be lucky just not to be on the receiving end of a salary dump.
So given the circumstances, the Mystics actually did pretty well in trading Smith and Jacinta Monroe to the Seattle Storm and getting rookie Jasmine Thomas along with Seattle's 2012 first round pick and the Indiana Fever's third round pick in a three-way trade yesterday: they filled a need, didn't get saddled with unnecessary salary, and managed to add a first round draft pick after giving one up in the Nicky Anosike trade earlier this off-season.
“I am very pleased to have Jasmine join the Washington Mystics organization,” said Mystics coach Trudi Lacey in a release. “She is an athletic point guard who can pressure the ball and offensively can create her own shot. She is the ultimate team player and she will complement an already talented back court. We look forward to an exciting 2011 season.”
However, although there's little doubt that they handled a challenging situation pretty well, they obviously gave up a lot for an unproven rookie.
Who they lose: Katie Smith, Jacinta Monroe
What they lose: Given that the Mystics are now rather strong in the post after acquiring Anosike to complement Crystal Langhorne, Monroe is not a huge loss - it would have been a battle for her to even make the roster, much less earn any minutes. However, Smith was their most efficient distributor statistically last season (0.36 pure point rating) and there's no easy way to imagine them replacing that. Her loss is only compounded by their previous trade of Lindsey Harding to the Atlanta Dream. As noted at the time of the Harding trade, the Mystics had a negative turnover differential last season so losing both of their most efficient distributors on a team whose most dominant scorer is in the post is a cause for concern.
Yet another gaping hole left by Smith is in the scoring department though: with Harding and Smith traded and forward Monique Currie out for the season due to injury, suddenly the Mystics are without three of their four top scorers from 2010. They've taken a huge hit in perimeter scoring in particular, losing three of their four best 3-point shooters as well. Even with guard Alana Beard returning and the addition of Kelly Miller in the Dream trade, last season's numbers might suggest that they're likely to struggle with outside shooting which could hurt their ability to score on the interior.
Who they add: Jasmine Thomas (and Seattle's 2012 first round draft pick and Indiana's 2012 third round draft pick)
What they gain: The loss of the majority of their perimeter scoring from last year is what makes Lacey's comment about Thomas so significant - she was certainly able to get her shot in college and with their primary perimeter scorers (Currie and Harding) not with the team this season, they'll need someone to be capable of creating their shot or they'll become very stagnant. As ESPN's Ros Gold-Onwude said on Dishin' and Swishin's draft preview about Thomas, she has the scoring ability and speed to be a "north-south" kind of player that can go by opposing defenders, perhaps similar to how fellow Duke alum Harding can.
However, along those lines is what makes this trade so hard to figure from Washington's end - while Thomas was able to create her shot in college, she didn't create scoring opportunities for others too efficiently with the lowest pure point rating of any point guard drafted and an assist ratio (15.55%) well beneath the average for draft-eligible point guards. The track record of that type of high usage, low assist ratio scoring guard transitioning into an efficient distributor in the WNBA is not too great.
That's part of why it's hard not to like this trade from the Storm's end - they might have gained more than they lost.
Who they lose: Jasmine Thomas, G (12th pick, 2011 first round), Erin Phillips (acquired via free agency) (and 2012 first & third rounders).
What they lose: Well, one way to look at this trade is they certainly don't lose anything from last year's WNBA championship roster and first round draft picks have become endangered species in Seattle over the past couple of years.
But if we take off the rose-colored glasses, the Storm obviously lost two candidates to help handle the ball off the bench in place of the departed Svetlana Abrosimova. Starting point guard Sue Bird doesn't need to be off the floor much, but having Abrosimova to help with ball handling and distributing responsibilities - as well as perimeter defense and shooting - definitely helped this team quite a bit during their championship run.
If you were to pick out an area of improvement for the Seattle Storm - or perhaps we should call it a less strong point - it was their turnover percentage differential. Bear in mind, they allowed the least points off turnovers (15 per game) and the least fast break points (6.94 per game) so it's not like there's any discernible way that turnovers held them back from anything. However, the consistent factor when the Storm struggled was turning the ball over - in getting down big to the Mercury twice and losing to the Tulsa Shock and Minnesota Lynx as well as in their early season loss to the Indiana Fever turnovers were a factor. For a team that went 28-6, that's significant and one - or both - of these players might have helped.
Who they add: Katie Smith, Jacinta Monroe and the Indiana Fever's 2012 second-round pick
What they gain: Smith is obviously getting closer to retirement and her valuable contributions ratio of 0.67 might suggest that she should be playing less than the 30.8 minutes per game she played last season for the Mystics.
Yet something she still does relatively well and will contribute to the Storm is her ball handling efficiency as a shooting guard. Smith was arguably the Mystics' best distributor last season and was much more efficient than Abrosimova was with the Storm (-2.18 pure point rating). However you can probably throw out the stats with Smith - the fact that she capable of being an efficient distributor from the wing might be less important than the fact that she brings veteran poise to the Storm. If you consider that Smith might play closer to 20 minutes for Agler - filling Abrosimova's minutes from last season and likely next to Tanisha Wright at times - she can still be a valuable contributor.
In terms of value though, what's most interesting about this trade is the acquisition of Monroe. Her block percentage of 5.8% is primarily a product of being limited to 6.9 minutes per game in 17 games, but s nonetheless impressive - to put that number in perspective, Sylvia Fowles had the 24th best block percentage of all-time last season at 6.73%. Otherwise, it's somewhat difficult to evaluate Monroe after her first season - she was not a particularly strong rebounder on either end of the floor and has a thin frame, but there's not much more you can take from her limited first-year minutes.
But overall, when considering that the Storm were a championship contender with or without this trade and Smith likely playing less minutes, it's hard to see how they lost anything with this trade - they added a wing who could potentially distribute and a young post player whose potential is no more unknown than the rookie they shipped out.
The biggest unknown for us outsiders is more financial than anything - part of the difficulty of executing this trade was working out salaries. It's conceivable that Monroe and her sixth pick salary (more than Thomas') won't make the final roster depending on how much Smith signed for and whether the Storm have any other deals to move non-minimum salaries.
That's why the Indiana Fever were necessary to make this trade work.
Who they lose: 2012 second and third round draft picks (and waived 2011 third round pick Jori Davis)
What they lose: As long as the league keeps rosters at 11 players, second and third round draft picks will remain unlikely to be major contributors in the WNBA.
Who they add: Erin Phillips (and Seattle's 2012 third round draft pick)
What they gain: The Storm need to ship out a veteran contract to make this deal work and Indiana was clearly brought in as a facilitator. However, where the trade becomes interesting is that the Fever turned the ball over the second most often in the league last season at a percentage of around 21%. Their top two most efficient distributors were wing players (Katie Douglas leading with a pure point rating of 0.69 and Tamika Catchings following with a rating of -0.28) and they lost their third most efficient distributor to free agency (Tully Bevilaqua -0.60).
Given that this wasn't the most efficient ball handling team and was also second to last in points in the paint (28.18) in the league - meaning they rely heavily on perimeter players to score - adding a guard to training camp for what may well amount to nothing is also a no-lose situation for them. Although Briann January figures to be the starter at point guard with the team's highest assist ratio last season (25.07%), the remaining options for ball handlers are Jene Morris, Shavonte Zellous, and rookie Jeanette Pohlen as well as Shannon Bobbitt, none of whom have more than two years of experience or consistently shown the ability to run an offense efficiently. So Phillips has a real chance in training camp to win a spot on the roster and significant playing time if she's able to distribute the ball efficiently.
“The opportunity to acquire Erin Phillips is significant for our team,” said Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf in a Fever release. “She is a strong combo guard who brings quality depth to our point guard and off-guard positions. She is a young but experienced player in the WNBA and internationally. I am thrilled to be adding her to our backcourt.”
Considering what little they gave up for Phillips, the Fever clearly had nothing to lose by jumping in and helping to facilitate this trade.
And just like their trading partners, it probably made some key training camp battles more competitive.