The Phoenix Mercury were two games away from a fourth WNBA championship in 2021, but faced limited avenues to upgrade their roster with their existing cap sheet. However, the team was too close to simply run it back and wait out the final year of Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi’s contracts.
Phoenix general manager Jim Pitman is always willing to get creative, and prioritize the present over the future, and that’s what took place in a three-way trade that fills the Mercury’s gap at starting small forward, though at a high cost.
Here are the terms of Phoenix’s trade with Chicago and Indiana that was finalized Thursday:
Phoenix receives: Diamond DeShields
Chicago receives: Julie Allemand, 2023 1st round pick (from PHX)
Indiana receives: Bria Hartley, 2022 no. 7 pick (from CHI), 2022 no. 22 pick (from PHX), 2023 2nd round pick (from PHX)
The most consequential player involved in this deal is DeShields, so let’s start there. DeShields gets a two-year, fully-protected deal for $150,000/$154,500, per Her Hoop Stats. Barring unforeseen circumstances, she will start alongside Phoenix’s big three. The best guess is that the fifth starter will remain Brianna Turner, but the Mercury have opened up some other options for the power forward slot.
By moving on from Bria Hartley, the team saves $46,000 in cap room and can offer a veteran — say Tina Charles? — about $180,000 if they fill out the rest of the roster with minimums. That might not be the best roster-building strategy since one of those players would be Kia Nurse, and she is unlikely to play this season, but Phoenix has tended to prioritize top-end talent over depth.
The Mercury shouldn’t miss Hartley too much, as Skylar Diggins-Smith, Taurasi, and Shey Peddy ably fill the guard rotation, along with Sophie Cunningham toggling between the 2 and 3. The price to get DeShields is steep, but the fit makes sense, especially since she will be surrounded by shooting on the Mercury roster. Who cares if Phoenix ever makes a first or second-round draft pick again?
That loss in draft capital is Indiana’s gain. The Fever now have three firsts in this year’s draft (no. 2, no. 7, and no. 10) and can probably roster all of them. Given that Indiana has cut its last two first-round picks (Lauren Cox and Kyrse Gondrezick), that doesn’t inspire extreme confidence in the team’s ability to draft and develop young players, but this is the route the Fever have to take in order to build up their talent base. They currently only have one in-her-prime player under contract beyond this season, Kelsey Mitchell. Now they have three bites at the apple to build a core around Mitchell.
The cost of doing business for Indiana wasn’t just cap space — the Fever also had to part with Julie Allemand, a point guard who made the all-rookie team in 2020. Allemand couldn’t play in the WNBA in 2021 due to international commitments, however, and since she is playing in France, her arrival to the United States in 2022 would also be delayed.
That’s a problem the Chicago Sky don’t need to worry about. Per reporting from Khristina Williams, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are “very likely” to come back to the Sky, despite earlier speculation about UMMC Ekaterinburg paying Vandersloot to sit for the year. That means Chicago has its starting point guard, and backup Dana Evans is still under contract, leaving no immediate need for Allemand. And when Allemand is available, she’ll likely be more comfortable with the Sky, who now have two fellow Belgians in assistant coach Ann Wauters and 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman.
Chicago exchanges one first-round pick for another in the process, saving the team from having to clear cap space for this year’s selection. Essentially, the Sky pick up Allemand in a sign-and-trade for DeShields, a player who was unlikely to return to Chicago.
In that sense, this trade feels like a win for all three parties. The Mercury improve immediately, the Fever give themselves more hope for the future, and the Sky clear the books to aid in a second consecutive championship run.