Here is what we know about the New York Liberty: they struggled to score last summer, head coach Anne Donovan would like to play more transition offense this season, and by adding Nicole Powell they now have two wings who aren't necessarily big distributors.
Doesn't that sound like a perfect fit for Phoenix Mercury All-Star Cappie Pondexter?
Although Swish Appeal has not been able to determine for certain that Pondexter has demanded a trade from the desert, there appear to be rumblings out of Phoenix regarding a Pondexter trade that may have been going on for a few months. Not that a trade will happen for certain, but there is some substance to the rumors.
Of course, we haven't gotten much from team front offices. Liberty President and General Manager Carol Blazejowski gave us an understandably vague statement last week during an interview. Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers-Drysdale gave us one more recently through a team representative, acknowledging that she had heard about the rumor: "She's planning on having [Pondexter] a part of the Mercury this season."
Nevertheless, we ultimately believe that with such a long off-season there's no harm in just exploring trade rumors.
So here's what would have to happen to make that trade work and an a brief breakdown of implications.
Is such a trade possible?
Financially, the following trade could work:
Pondexter and Kelly Mazzante
Phoenix native Powell and one of the following: Essence Carson, Tiffany Jackson, or Kia Vaughn
Is it reasonable?
Well, from a Phoenix standpoint, if Pondexter really has threatened not to play if she's not traded, then sending her to the Eastern Conference and getting an All-Star from Phoenix in return is not a bad move. The fact that Powell is a Phoenix native is just an added bonus.
Second, Mazzante is taking up salary cap space disproportionate to her contribution to the team so moving her is a positive.
Third, the move would allow the Mercury to retain Penny Taylor at the max and re-sign Temeka Johnson.
From a New York perspective, they get Cappie Pondexter, which for a team looking to run a transition offense is beyond perfect.
From a WNBA marketing perspective, let's not forget that it would be a double homecoming, in a sense -- Powell coming home to Phoenix and Pondexter going "home" to New York, near where she played college basketball at Rutgers University.
Is it fair?
That would probably depend on your judgment who New York sends back to Phoenix.
Losing Pondexter would mean that Phoenix would be without a wing player, specifically someone to defend quicker guards. As such, Essence Carson - a scorer in terms of SPI styles - is one of the best young defensive wings in the league and without doubt the most valuable of the options to make this work financially. No, Carson is not Pondexter, but a wing rotation of Carson, Powell, Taurasi, and Penny Taylor would easily be the most versatile and potent in the WNBA, if crowded.
Jackson is more of an interior utility player and would take a role similar to Willingham on the team, though likely off the bench. She's not nearly as efficient a scorer, but more scoring wouldn't be needed in this scenario: considering that Penny Taylor is coming back for a full season, DeWanna Bonner figures to become a better scorer, and they would have added Powell, a utility player would be valuable. Most importantly, although Willingham is a slightly better offensive rebounder by percentage (17.04% to 16.04%), Jackson is a better rebounded overall by percentage (14.27% to 11.08%). Given that a running team needs to get force missed shots and defend better, adding a taller forward who is a better rebounder would make sense.
Last is Kia Vaughn, whom the Liberty are very high on but unlikely to hold onto too tightly if given the chance to get a talent like Cappie Pondexter. She didn't contribute a whole lot last season, but she has the physical tools and had an excellent offensive rebounding rate of 20.28%. She was relatively efficient despite not being that productive and given her physical tools she could be productive with work. As Liberty coach Anne Donovan told Swish Appeal, part of that might be a matter of building confidence and getting experience.
Given the number of players on the wing with Powell hypothetically coming in, Jackson might make the most sense for the Mercury, stepping into clear role as a utility player as she played on the Liberty. Carson is clearly the better player, stands to improve as a WNBA player this year, and would provide defense on the wing. However, the thought of a defensive player on the Mercury is a paradox I'm finding difficult to reconcile.
As reported previously on Swish Appeal, the salary cap reduction has forced the Mercury into a situation where they will be losing someone from their championship core. So they have to do something - they cannot stay put. With Taylor already publicly committing to the Mercury, either Johnson or Pondexter would be odd-woman out.
So for the Mercury, this trade is not really about Pondexter for Powell and a role player - it's about Pondexter for Powell, a role player more productive than Mazzante, and the possibility of re-signing Johnson. Obviously, there is a no way for a team to "replace" what a player like Pondexter brings to the team. But given that, getting an All Star, keeping the point the point guard who was important to running the offense, and upgrading the bench is not a bad tradeoff. With no other point guards on the free agent market and few able to run Corey Gaines' offense quite the way Johnson does, the value of returning Johnson might be difficult to measure concretely.
Bottom line: in keeping Pondexter, the Mercury lose Johnson and enter the season with 7 returning players, but 4 minimum salary players or rookies. In trading Pondexter, they bring back six players plus Powell, a Liberty role player, and three minimum salary players but have a complete rotation.
For the Liberty, things are far less complicated. It's not just about adding a MVP caliber player -- Pondexter really does fit. If Donovan really does want to focus on a transition offense, Pondexter not only brings championship experience in that type of system, but also a secondary ball handler to increase the number of players who can push it up the court. Pondexter and Christon is clearly not Pondexter and Taurasi, but it clearly makes New York a playoff team in the east.
Are the Mercury better off with Pondexter and without Johnson? Moreover, would this team win the title again with Powell and Johnson? That's hard to tell.
Anyway, it's just a rumor.