On Monday, it was announced that the Mystics and Sky were working on a deal that would send Elena Delle Donne to Washington in exchange for Stefanie Dolson and the #2 overall pick in the 2017 Draft.
The main reason why the Sky would trade the 2015 WNBA MVP and 2016 Team USA Olympian for an All-Star reserve center coming off a down year and a high draft pick in a weak class is simple. It’s because Delle Donne announced that she was ready to move on from Chicago. If the framework of the deal ends up looking like this, it’s a sign that Delle Donne wanted to force her way to Washington and nowhere else.
If you are Chicago Sky GM and Head Coach Amber Stokes, this really stinks. You get hired to lead a team that made the 2016 WNBA semifinals. But you lose your best player and perhaps more by the time you start training camp the following year. That said, it doesn’t hurt to ask for as much as you can, right?
According to Gene Wang of The Washington Post, Stokes and the Sky swung for the fences by wanting to acquire Emma Meesseman in any package for Delle Donne. Mystics GM and Head Coach Mike Thibault refused:
The Sky, according to people familiar with the negotiations, initially had expressed an interest in acquiring Emma Meesseman, but Thibault has been unwilling to part with her.
I think most of us would agree that in a vacuum, the fairest trade the Mystics could make is by offering Meesseman and the #2 pick to Chicago for Delle Donne. I would make that trade myself. And if you are the Sky GM, you should ask even if the chances of a "yes" are slim.
That said, Chicago is negotiating out of weakness. Consider these facts.
- Delle Donne wants to play close to her home in Delaware - She has a track record for being close to home whenever possible over the years.
- It appears Delle Donne wants to play in Washington and only Washington - There are two teams close to Delaware: the Mystics and the New York Liberty. The Sky could get the Mystics and Liberty to give offers and see who would offer more. In short, the Liberty can offer more than the Mystics, so they would get her instead.
- If the Sky holds out longer with Delle Donne, then her trade value drops - Chicago already tried the "holding out" route with former center Sylvia Fowles in 2015. Fowles ultimately got what she wanted by going to the Lynx in a three-way trade that involved the Dream and received Erika de Souza in return. And de Souza is past her prime now. Meanwhile, the Lynx sent out some younger players who didn’t play too much for them. The Sky doesn’t want a repeat of this scenario, so trading Delle Donne for a younger player on the rise makes sense.
Let’s keep in mind that Meesseman has quite a bit of power in this trade as well. Thibault isn’t letting her go under any circumstances. But if she was available, Meesseman has these things in her favor — if she does not want to be traded:
- She can threaten to stay home in Belgium after EuroBasket - Unlike most European stars, Meesseman has played in every WNBA game in the last four years. She also played at an All-Star level in each of the last two years. However, her native Belgium made EuroBasket, which will force her to miss part of 2017. It could be a week or half the season depending on whether she’ll take part in pre-tournament training.
- European nationals aren’t as dedicated to the WNBA as Americans - The Spanish and French have some of the top teams in the world, but most of their stars do not play in the WNBA. Part of the reason why is because the European season is during the NBA season and they rest in the summer like the men do if there are no national team commitments. Also, their style of play isn’t necessarily the way they’d have to play in the WNBA. Meesseman talked about that too.
- She plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg where she already earns a good living - That team paid Diana Taurasi to sit out the 2015 season. I’m not sure exactly how much Meesseman makes in Russia, but it’s safe to say she makes more than she would in the USA.
- The Mystics signed a long term deal with Meesseman before Tayler Hill who is a restricted free agent right now - When you get a max contract extension before a draft lottery pick, the team that extended you believes you are a long term piece. Yes, Meesseman would be a second option to Delle Donne if they’re both on the same team this season. But that doesn’t mean that the Mystics don’t envision Meesseman as a long term piece.
None of this is meant to imply that Meesseman will refuse to play for any WNBA team not named the Mystics. But if Meesseman doesn’t want to enter Chicago’s unclear situation, she is more likely to hold out than an American player given how European nationals have historically been.
WNBA signings and trades can’t be official until closer to February so there’s still a long way to go before this situation is resolved. But either way, I’m feeling a bit more excited about the Mystics’ 2017 season than I was a couple months ago.