Center Megan Gustafson was cut from the Dallas Wings on May 22, just before opening day. The news was surprising — especially for Iowa fans — because Gustafson was also the Naismith and AP Player of the Year for the Hawkeyes during the previous NCAA season.
Just a few weeks later, Dallas re-signed Gustafson on June 13 after they announced that Tayler Hill will have knee surgery and Glory Johnson was going to Women’s EuroBasket to play for Montenegro.
On the surface, the narrative around Gustafson’s comeback is a story of redemption. She’s getting a second chance to play for Dallas and make the most out of what could be a solid WNBA career. But on the other hand, cutting Gustafson in the first place was a shortsighted move for a team that is clearly in a rebuilding situation.
Why shouldn’t Gustafson have been cut?
The main reason why Gustafson shouldn’t have been cut is quite simple. The Wings need post scoring depth, something she could provide right away. While no one could be expected to fill the void Liz Cambage left behind, Isabelle Harrison and Imani McGee-Stafford have been underwhelming in the Wings’ 1-5 regular season start.
Harrison, who missed the 2018 WNBA season due to injury, is currently averaging 6.4 points per game on 39.4 percent shooting. McGee-Stafford is averaging 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, and isn’t playing much, averaging 10 minutes a game in the 2019 season.
Johnson, who is a two-time WNBA All-Star, is averaging 6.7 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting — both career-lows. Since she will be out of the country until mid-July, this opens up more playing time for Harrison and McGee-Stafford. Gustafson also figures to get some playing time as a result.
Though Gustafson is back with the Wings and can play, she still missed several weeks of valuable practice time where she could have continued her adjustment to the professional game. Instead, she has to get acclimated to the WNBA again, which slows down her progress.
Who should the Wings have cut instead if they decided to keep Gustafson?
It is fair to say that Gustafson didn’t do herself favors in the WNBA preseason. She averaged just 2.7 points on 2-of-8 shooting in three preseason games, a far cry from her 70.1 percent shooting from the field as a college senior at Iowa.
But Dallas knew it wasn’t going to contend for a championship this year with Cambage holding out for a trade and Skylar Diggins-Smith coming back from maternity leave. Therefore, it made sense for the Wings to invest in the they drafted.
With only 12 spots available and six players on guaranteed contracts, the Wings still had to cut someone. First-round draft pick Arike Ogunbowale never had her future in doubt since Diggins-Smith would miss at least part of the season. Gustafson, meanwhile, had to compete against Harrison and McGee-Stafford for a final spot.
If Gustafson remained on the team for opening day, perhaps Harrison should have been the final player cut instead because she does not have a guaranteed roster spot. Though Harrison is averaging over 21 minutes per game, she has a net rating of -14.2 points per 100 possessions.
It is difficult to say what Gustafson’s net rating would be if she played a consistent flow of minutes this season, but drafted players should receive a fair chance to receive playing time when possible.
And who is truly responsible for making player personnel decisions in Dallas?
Technically, Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb has the final say in basketball decisions. However, Bibb noted that he would work with head coach Brian Agler “in a collaborative fashion” on such matters in an interview with Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops.
Agler has won a WNBA championship in each of his previous stops with the Seattle Storm (2008-14) and Los Angeles Sparks (2015-18). However, he also led veteran-laden rosters with both Seattle and Los Angeles, most of which were top-performing teams. The Wings figure to be below average.
When he was in Seattle, Agler was also the general manager, making player personnel decisions and not hesitating to add veterans — often at the expense of younger players who could have longer futures. It is unclear whether Agler influenced Bibb to cut Gustafson in May, but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that this was the case.
Regardless of who was responsible for the cut, the Wings are a team that must rebuild with the young players they have. Dallas already has some good younger players besides Gustafson, such as Ogunbowale and sophomore forward Azura Stevens. They also have veteran forward Kayla Thornton and third-year guard Allisha Gray to work with Diggins-Smith when she returns.
The Wings may not make the playoffs this year. But if Agler and Bibb stay persistent by building with their younger drafted players, they can still create a contender in the near future.
How do you feel about Gustafson’s return to Dallas after being cut just a few weeks ago? Will she make the most out of her second chance in the WNBA? Let us know in the comments below.