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2023 WNBA Free Agency: Blockbuster Jonquel Jones trade follows Connecticut Sun’s offseason leadership changes

The Connecticut Sun will enter the 2023 season with a new general manager and coaching staff. They also will enter it with a new-look roster, as the Sun jumpstarted the WNBA transaction season by trading 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas.

2022 WNBA Finals - Game Three
The Connecticut Sun completed a three-team blockbuster trade, sending 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones to the the New York Liberty.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Even though the Connecticut Sun advanced to the WNBA Finals for the second time in four years, it has been an offseason of change in Uncasville.

At the season’s end, we proposed that, despite postseason success, the Sun might look to move on from head coach Curt Miller, suggesting that a fresh signal-caller could reinvigorate a talented roster that too often found itself in ruts, especially on the offensive end. Connecticut did not have to make that decision, as Miller, who also served as the Sun general manager, made it, choosing to head to LA to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks.

After Miller’s move, Connecticut called on Stephanie White, who previously had served as head coach of the Indiana Fever (2015-2016) before she spent five seasons at the helm of the Vanderbilt Commodores (2016-2021), to become the organization’s sixth head coach. White has begun to fill out her staff, hiring Abi Olajuwon, daughter of Hakeem who had a cup of coffee in the WNBA before establishing an overseas career, and recently-retired former Sun Briann January, who also played under White in Indiana, as assistant coaches.

Sun President Jen Rizzotti also has bolstered the front office, bringing in Darius Taylor as general manager and elevating Director of Franchise Development Morgan Tuck to assistant general manager.

Will all of the Sun’s significant leadership changes be followed by significant roster changes? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

By the numbers*

Free agent (type) (2022 salary)

  • Brionna Jones (unrestricted) ($120,000)
  • Courtney Williams (unrestricted) ($103,000)
  • Natisha Hiedeman (restricted) ($72,141)
  • Bria Hartley (unrestricted) ($23,000)
  • Joyner Holmes (reserved) ($58,076)

Total average salary of free agents: $376,217

Total team salary: $984,187

Cap space: $436,313


Connecticut Sun v Chicago Sky - Game One
Will Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones will be the core of the Connecticut Sun in 2023?
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Since the outset of last season, it has been assumed that 2022 would mark Brionna Jones’ final season in Connecticut. With the 2021 Most Improved Player and 2022 Sixth Woman of the Year poised to command a significant raise, likely elevating her $120,000 yearly salary to the max of $202,154, the Sun did not possess the salary cap space needed to feasibly re-sign her.

Well, now they do!

Actually, 2022 was 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones’ final season with the Sun, as Connecticut completed a three-team, league-shifting trade that sent J. Jones to the New York Liberty. In exchange for J. Jones, the Sun received the No. 6 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Rebecca Allen from the Liberty and point guard Tyasha Harris from the Dallas Wings.

With this transaction, J. Jones’ 2023 salary of $211,150 has been replaced by the $136,850 salary of Allen and $83,194 salary of Harris. In short, Connecticut turned J. Jones and her salary into two players. So while the Sun did not increase their raw cap space with this deal, they did increase their flexibility, giving them $975,293 to sign at least four, and hopefully five, additional players. If Connecticut ends up selecting and rostering the newly-acquired No. 6 pick ($71,300), as well as their own No. 10 pick ($68,295), the pair of players will cost a total of $139,595. If the organization plans on adding these two rookies, they then have $835,698 in cap space to sign two or three more free agents.

A big chunk of this spending power will go to B. Jones, as Connecticut has signaled their intention to core her, a move made possible by opening up the core designation previously occupied by J. Jones.

As explained by Her Hoop Stats’ CBA FAQ, a core qualifying is a one-year guaranteed contract at the supermax-salary level ($234,936). However, B. Jones, her representation and the Sun can negotiate a contract with different terms, including for multiple years and at a salary below the supermax. For this exercise, let’s assume the Sun go all in and give B. Jones the full bag, awarding her the supermax salary for 2023. That leaves the Sun with $600,762 to sign two more players.

But wait! The Sun dialed in another big deal, sending longtime starting point guard Jasmine Thomas, who missed the majority of the 2022 season with an ACL injury, to the Los Angeles Sparks for Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker and the rights to Kianna Smith.

Thomas’ $190,000 becomes $64,657 for Nelson-Ododa and $75,407 for Walker. Smith, a reserved free agent, would cost at least $62,285 to retain. If Connecticut plans to keep all three, that leaves $588,413 in cap space (again assuming B. Jones is signed to the full supermax).

Connecticut’s (theoretical) roster would look like this:

  • Protected contracts: Brionna Jones, Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner, Rebecca Allen, Ty Harris
  • Unprotected contracts: DiJonai Carrington, Nia Clouden, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker

Like K. Smith, Joyner Holmes is a reserved free agent, while Natisha Hiedeman is a restricted free agent. Connecticut has issued qualifying offers to Holmes and Hiedeman and, if the team chooses to retain them, both would be owed at least $74,305, a combined amount well under the Sun’s projected salary cap space in this scenario. This remaining cap space, combined with a roster crunch, suggests more moves are coming.

Will Connecticut continue to try re-tool a championship-caliber roster around B. Jones and A. Thomas? Or, is the organization opting for a full-scale rebuild, envisioning B. Jones as the fulcrum of a younger team? In that case, could A. Thomas and Bonner also be on the move?

Regardless of which direction Connecticut’s new leadership pursues, they should be aiming to construct a roster that surrounds B. Jones and whoever her frontcourt partner is with more shooting, as Stephanie White self-identifies as an offensive-minded coach who values 3-pointers.

Although the politics of personal relationships might result in her joining J. Thomas and Curt Miller in Los Angeles, Hiedeman’s status as quick-trigger 3-point shooter would seem to fit White’s expected offensive system. In contrast, retaining Courtney Williams, who is an unrestricted free agent after her 2022 one-year discount deal of $103,000, would not make sense, as Williams is too infatuated with midrange pull-ups despite her deeper shooting ability. Alternatively, although Carrington is a popular player with an enticing high-energy skillset, trading her for a player with a proven track record as a knockdown shooter could be an option. In terms of available free-agent shooters, some names we suggested back in October were Alysha Clark, Sami Whitcomb and Kia Nurse, as well as former Sun Lexie Brown and Rachel Banham.

By honoring Jonquel Jones’ desire to take her talents to New York and then reuniting Jasmine Thomas with Curt Miller in Los Angeles, the Connecticut Sun have shaken up the league and significantly altered the organization’s future. What exactly this future will look like will be determined as free agency unfolds.

*All salary numbers come from Her Hoop Stats.