During the Sparks-Shock game last night, Rebecca Lobo suggested the trade that brought Kristi Toliver to Los Angeles was one of the most one sided in league history. Bad trades have been subject for debate among WNBA fans since Mikiko Hagiwara was traded to the Mercury in 1997. I even blogged on it myself back when WNBA.com was sponsoring fan blogs and Kristi Toliver was just the hero of the Final Four. Let's update things and see where the Toliver trade ranks and see if any other recent trades are as bad or worse. Here are the top 10 worst trades in WNBA history:
#10 March 2010 A three way trade. The Chicago Sky traded Candice Dupree and a second round pick to Phoenix. The Mercury send Cappie Pondexter and Kelly Mazzante to New York. The Liberty send Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld to Chicago. The pick the Merc got turned out to be Ashley Houts. Even at the time it looked like Chicago got the short end of the stick, giving up the steady Dupree for the inefficient Christon. No one could have forseen that Christon would only play 10 games for the Sky due to multiple injuries. If we did a statistical ranking of bad trades, this one would rank much higher on the list. Since the degree of badness was mostly caused by bad luck, it stays down here.
#9 December 1999 The Utah Starzz traded Elena Baranova and a first round pick to the Miami Sol for Kate Starbird and a second round pick. Starbird never amounted to much in Utah. Candi Harvey wasn't much of a bench person even in the best of circumstances, she certainly wasn't going to give time to frail, 37% shooting wings. Baranova sat out 2000 to play for the Russian Olympic team, which is what made this trade happen, but she played quite well for Miami in 2001. The Sol traded the pick to Minnesota for Marlies Askamp, who was quite solid for them in 2000 and not bad off the bench in 2001 before being traded to Los Angeles for a first round pick in the 2003 draft. Utah used the second rounder to get Jameka Jones.
#8 June 2008 The Atlanta Dream traded Camille Little to the Seattle Storm for a second round pick. The pick turned out to be Shalee Lehning, who was not terrible for Atlanta. Little, of course, blossomed into a very good starter for the Storm and was key to Seattle beating Atlanta in the 2010 Finals. Like #10 above, this deal was precipitated by player demand. Little had broken up with her boyfriend, Marvin Williams, who played for the Atlanta Hawks at the time. She requested a trade to avoid having to see him at their shared facilities all the time.
#7 May 2010 The Chicago Sky traded Kristi Toliver to the Los Angeles Sparks for a second round pick. The pick turned out to be Angie Bjorklund. Toliver was constantly butting heads with then Sky coach Steven Key and was generally considered to have an attitude problem. She improved a little in LA, then really blossomed when the Sparks brought in Carol Ross to coach. Bjorklund never got on the floor for the Sky or any other WNBA team.
#6 March 2004 The Washington Mystics traded Asjha Jones to the Connecticut Sun for Tamicha Jackson. Jackson actually came from Phoenix, this was a three way deal in which the Mercury got a first round pick from the Sun. It's hard to see what the Mystics were thinking here. They already had Stacey Dales and Coco Miller, both of whom were clearly superior to Jackson, and they spent their first round pick on Alana Beard a couple of weeks later. Even if they were suckered in by the Reverse Asjha Jones Theory of Mystic Success*, they should have been able to get more for a capable young front court player than someone to be the 4th guard on the roster.
#5 May 2003. The San Antonio Silver Stars traded Natalie Williams and Coretta Brown to the Indiana Fever for Sylvia Crawley and Gwen Jackson. The SASS realized, correctly, that Williams had started on the downside of her career. Somehow they failed to see that the same was true of Crawley, odd given the way her numbers had been steadily declining. The difference? Williams is a Hall of Famer, her downside is still all-star level play. Crawley's downside is a coaching career. As for the rookies, Tired Legs Jackson played well in 2003 but had nothing but upheaval and disappointment in her career afterwards. She was traded away midway through 2004. Brown had some moments that year, but never amounted to more than a deep bench player.
#4 June 2002. The Minnesota Lynx traded Betty Lennox and a first round pick to the Miami Sol for Tamara Moore and a second round pick. Lennox really couldn't get along with then Lynx coach Brian Agler. After this trade she said she felt "betrayed" by him and called him a "con man" and a "liar". Anyway, Moore mostly sat on the bench for the Lynx and left at the end of the season. Lennox went on to be finals MVP for Seattle. The draft pick never got taken, the Sol folded, but anyone Minnesota could have gotten in the 2003 lottery would have been an improvement over half a season of Tamara Moore. Even adding in Jordan Adams, which is who the Lynx got with the pick they received from Miami, Minnesota blew this move. Oh, and Agler was fired a few weeks later, so there was really no need to trade Lennox at all.
#3 May 2000. The Portland Fire traded Tari Phillips to the New York Liberty for Carolyn Jones-Young. Of course the worse move was Orlando leaving Phillips available in the expansion draft for Portland in the first place, but then Carolyn Peck did a lot of things that didn't make sense. The Tarnado went on to four all-star appearances and pretty much carried the Liberty to the 2000 finals. Jones-Young played a handful of minutes for the Fire in 2002, fewer than Phillips had played for the Miracle in fact. Given what Phillips had done in the ABL, I can't understand why Orlando and Portland didn't see the value she had. This was the gold standard for bad trades for years.
#2 May 2009 Another three way trade. The New York Liberty sent their first round pick to the Minnesota Lynx. Minnesota sent Noelle Quinn to the Los Angeles Sparks. LA sent Rafaella Masciadri to the Lynx and Sidney Spencer to the Liberty. The pick turned out to be the #1 overall pick, which the Lynx used to acquire Lindsay Whalen from the Connecticut Sun. The Sun used the pick to take future MVP Tina Charles. Spencer had a decent rookie season in 2007, even getting some votes for Rookie of the Year, but had regressed in 2008. She barely played for Lib over the next 2 1/2 seasons before getting shipped out. The Liberty had little reason to expect the pick to be a lottery pick. They had practically everybody back from a team that was one basket away from the Finals in 2008. Instead their offense collapsed as the rest of the league figured out Pat Coyle's game plan and they finished last in the East. The Sparks had to be kicking themselves for letting Minnesota into the trade instead of dealing Spencer for the pick straight up. Quinn was an upgrade over Spencer, but she's not Tina Charles.
#1 July 2005. The Minnesota Lynx traded Katie Smith and a second round pick to the Detroit Shock for Chandi Jones, Stacey Thomas, and a first round pick. When this trade first happened, I did my best to defend the Lynx end of it. I liked Jones and there was a fair chance that the pick would be a lottery pick. Smith was at that early 30's age when so many two guards drop off the face of the earth (see Merlakia Jones, Ruthie Bolton, Nikki McCray, Kelly Miller, etc) and was coming off of a knee injury, plus the Shock already had a really good two guard in Deanna Nolan. Jones occasionally showed flashes, but never turned into the player some thought she could be. Thomas played three minutes in a Lynx uniform. The pick Minnesota got wasn't a lottery pick. They used it on Shona Thorburn, who was a bust. Smith wasn't what she used to be, but she was still very, very good. Her play was a big part of what took the Shock from barely making the playoffs in 2004 and 2005 to the 2006 & 2008 titles plus the 2007 Finals. The pick the Shock got was Ambrosia Anderson, who got cut. The Shock got the missing piece they needed for another title run, and got it very cheaply. That makes them the big winner in the worst trade ever.
* What the heck is the Reverse Asjha Jones Theory of Mystic Success? It's a statistical anomaly from 2002, Jones' rookie season. The more minutes Jones played for Washington that year, the worse the team's record was. When she played 20+ minutes they were 6-11. When she played 10-19 minutes, they were 7-3. When she played fewer than 10 minutes, they were 4-1. According to the theory, this meant that the Mystics were better off not playing her very much, regardless of matchups or other factors. It's really an example of how statistics can fool you if you let them. Anybody who watched the Mystics that year could tell that Jones wasn't hurting the team by being on the floor.