The biggest deal in WNBA history took place Thursday. But for Elena Delle Donne, the centerpiece of the deal between the Chicago Sky and Washington Mystics, it wasn't so much a business decision as it was a personal one.
"Ever since I realized this deal was going to happen, I think I've had a smile on my face ever since," Delle Donne said. "I really think that Washington just meets all of my personal and professional wishes."
Delle Donne, a former WNBA MVP and three-time All-Star, agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that sent her from the Sky to the Mystics. The move brings the 6-foot-5 forward closer to her home state of Delaware. The move is similar to the one Delle Donne made in college, when she transferred from UConn to Delaware and gave up basketball for a time for personal reasons.
She has always done things her way, and although some questioned the trade, it provided her with peace of mind and a clear idea of what's most important to her. At the top of that list is family -- particularly her older sister, Lizzie, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is blind.
"The idea of something being mutually beneficial, those opportunities are few and far between, but they exist, and that's what happened here."Sky coach Amber Stocks
Delle Donne herself has chronic Lyme disease, which has affected her play both in college and the WNBA. She has missed time on the court because of flare-ups, including one in late January that forced her to return from China after signing a contract to play for Shanxi during its postseason, per Chinese League rules.
Delle Donne's agent, Erin Kane, said last week her client's health and personal life played a major role in the trade.
"When the salaries are as different as they are from the NBA, certain factors are weighted differently," Kane told ESPN. "Elena has always been a player who plays for enjoyment of the game. There are other considerations for her, and they have to do with her family -- her sister in particular, who cannot travel -- and they have to do with Elena's health."
The sign-and-trade that sent Delle Donne to Washington brought center Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper to Chicago, along with the Mystics' 2017 first-round draft pick, No. 2 overall. Dolson, a 6-foot-5 former All-Star, averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds for Washington this past season. Copper put up 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds as a rookie.
Both will play a part in replacing Delle Donne, who was the linchpin for Chicago for much of her career. In 2015, she averaged a league-high 23.4 points per game and logged a 32.7 player efficiency rating. This past season, she posted 21.5 points per game but missed the Sky's playoff run because of a thumb injury that required surgery.
Chicago made it to the WNBA semifinals despite Delle Donne's absence, which coach and general manager Amber Stocks took as a good sign for the Sky.
"We're not losing anything from the roster that we had that made it to the semifinals; we are adding to that semifinal team," said Stocks, who was hired in December. "This is one of those situations where it happens to be a win-win-win. Elena is content, and Washington is content. No one was pushed to do anything -- not Elena, not Washington, not Chicago.
"The idea of something being mutually beneficial, those opportunities are few and far between, but they exist, and that's what happened here."
The Mystics, meanwhile, stand to make a big jump after a 13-20 season thanks to Delle Donne's production. The team, citing company policy, declined a request for details on Delle Donne's contract. However, coach Mike Thibault understands the gravity of the move, especially in a league that doesn't often see star players moving on from the teams that drafted them.
"What Elena does for our team, it's a unique situation. She takes pressure off everybody else," Thibault said. "She's had good teammates, but the feeling I always got when we played them is that there was always a lot of pressure on her -- 'Hey, go make a play for us.' We're certainly going to have a lot of scoring capabilities on this team."
Chicago is excited about its acquisitions, too, and Stocks doesn't see the Sky's style of play changing much in her first season. She does, however, think Dolson can have a major impact as both a 3-point shooter and a creator from the post.
"We got immense, immense value out of this trade," Stocks said. "Our roster is stronger, deeper and better with Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper in Chicago Sky jerseys. Courtney Vandersloot, Jamierra Faulkner, Allie Quigley, they will all be the beneficiaries of playing on the court with Stefanie Dolson. And Imani Boyette might benefit most of all. She will have more opportunities to play in an open court and with fewer double-teams."
The basketball side of it takes a backseat for Delle Donne -- at least for now. This wasn't about a title or money. It was about family. She's closer to hers now, and she plans to make a new one in the Mystics locker room.
"Having Lizzie this close by is so great because as many know, I can't call her, I can't FaceTime her," Delle Donne said. "I'll be able to see her a lot during the summer."
And, Delle Donne said, she wants to get her sister to a Mystics game. Lizzie has never been to one of Delle Donne's pro games because of how difficult it is to travel with her condition. On Thursday, Delle Donne said the basketball portion of this deal isn't what made her smile the most.
"It's not a secret to anyone," she said, "how much my family means to me."