Minnesota really wants to win the 2015 WNBA championship. Chicago is hoping that it made the best of a very difficult situation. And Atlanta, while not giving up on making the playoffs this year, is looking more toward the future. Those are the general takeaways from the big three-team trade announced Monday.
Center Sylvia Fowles got what she was holding out for: a trade from Chicago to Minnesota. The Sky, who were basically over a barrel in regard to Fowles, got another experienced center in Erika de Souza from Atlanta. And the Dream went younger, getting post players Damiris Dantas and Reshanda Gray, plus Minnesota's 2016 first-round draft pick.
Minnesota, which also got Chicago's 2015 second-round pick, was known to be Fowles' destination of choice. The Sky tried to sign her to a contract extension last fall, and when that didn't happen, Chicago coach and general manager Pokey Chatman knew it was going to be a difficult situation to resolve.
The 6-foot-6 Fowles was a "core player" for Chicago, a designation that to a degree tied both her hands and the Sky's, resulting in a stalemate for the first part of this season. Fowles, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, was prepared to sit out this entire season if she had to, while Chicago didn't want to make a deal that wasn't fair market value.
Finally, though, with Atlanta in on the deal, everyone got enough of what they wanted to make it happen. So let's look at this major deal from all three teams' perspective:
Lynx double-down on title hopes
The Lynx for so long were a franchise that often didn't make the right moves. But then when that changed, it changed big time. Now GM Roger Griffith has made another powerful move that was absolutely the right call.
Good decision making -- hiring coach Cheryl Reeve and with player personnel moves, led by the trade for Lindsay Whalen -- combined with good fortune in the draft lottery as the Lynx flipped the switch in 2011. They've been a power ever since, winning the league championship in 2011 and 2013, and making the WNBA Finals in 2012 and the Western Conference finals last year. Maya Moore, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft and last season's league MVP, just turned 26 in June and is the team's at-her-peak superstar.
But the other three key players -- Whalen, 2006 No. 1 draft pick Seimone Augustus, and Rebekkah Brunson -- all have been vital to what the Lynx have accomplished. Whalen's eye injury kept her out of the All-Star Game, but she's expected back soon. Augustus is out for now after arthroscopic knee surgery, but if she returns for the end of the season and the playoffs, then you have the "big four" combined with "Big Syl," to make a championship run.
This should be a very comfortable fit for Fowles, who was Augustus' college teammate at LSU and has played with Augustus, Moore and Whalen on the U.S. national team. Fowles has never seemed to me to be a player who wants all the attention on her, or who craves being seen as the biggest star. I think she wants to have a clearly defined role that doesn't mean having the entire team on her shoulders, which Reeve can provide. And Fowles really wants to win a WNBA title, which she can help determine.
Fowles has averaged a double-double in the WNBA the last four seasons, and was nearly at that in 2010 as well. Injuries have cost her some time, including last season when she played just 20 regular-season games and averaged 13.4 points and 10.2 rebounds. But she's had a lot of time to rest/get healthy after overseas play.
With Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor sitting out this season, Phoenix is missing its on-court maestro and one of the league's most reliable glue-type players. That doesn't rule out the Mercury as a championship contender, because they're still a very talented team, led by center Brittney Griner. But less lethal than if Taurasi and Taylor were on court.
Besides the Mercury, the only other West team that would appear to have enough talent to possibly keep the Lynx from advancing to the WNBA Finals is a squad that right now has the worst record in the league.
That's last-place Los Angeles at 3-13, but the Sparks won't need to have a nice-looking record to make the playoffs or to go on a postseason run. They will get star Candace Parker back this week, and then it's a matter of finally playing up to their talent level. Although the Sparks have proven that's easier said than done.
The bottom line is that, especially if Augustus is back healthy enough for the postseason, the Lynx are in the driver's seat to get to the WNBA Finals and go after their third title. Especially with Fowles, who gives them a truly big target inside and has been one of the league's best post defenders her whole career.
Did the Lynx give away too much in young players like Dantis and Gray, plus the draft pick? Nope. I can understand the concern that Lynx followers might have about the team's bench and the youthful promise of Dantis and Gray. But Fowles is more than a proven commodity; she's one of the best centers in league history. Fowles will be 30 in October and is still a premiere player.
The Lynx made themselves an even stronger title contender than they already were, and they'd have been crazy not to make this deal.
Sky make best of situation
As mentioned, Chicago was in a tough spot. Everyone knew Fowles wanted to go to Minnesota. The Sky were not in the best bargaining position, but they also didn't want to just acquiesce to Fowles and hurt themselves. After all, the Sky want to win a WNBA title, too.
So they probably did about as well as they could by getting an experienced center like de Souza, who has been dependable for a long time.
De Souza is 33 -- 3½ years older than Fowles -- and her numbers have dropped off from last year. She's averaging 8.6 points and 7.5 rebounds this season, down from 13.8 points (which was a career high) and 8.7 rebounds in 2014.
But to be fair to de Souza, she's also been playing for a Dream squad that is challenged, to say the least, at point guard. That definitely is not the case with Chicago and Courtney Vandersloot, who leads the Eastern Conference in assists per game at 5.0.
De Souza is averaging just 8.6 shots per game this season, her least since 2008 when she had Olympic commitments for Brazil and played just 12 WNBA games. Fowles in her top offensive season for Chicago -- 2011 -- averaged 13.1 shots per game, but was at 9.3 last year.
With Elena Delle Donne, Cappie Pondexter, Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley all averaging in double figures in scoring, the Sky don't need de Souza to come in and try to be something she isn't. To the contrary, de Souza as she is right now is a big boost for the Sky inside. With Vandersloot at point guard, de Souza should be able to find an offensive comfort zone pretty quickly. And she's always been an excellent rebounder.
Another thing about de Souza is she plays with passion and emotion, and that can help Chicago, too. De Souza was in her eighth season in Atlanta and a move like this can be difficult for an older player. But she might flourish the rest of this season with a fresh start on a team that is in the hunt to win the East.
Plus, you won't find a superstar-level talent who is any more welcoming a personality than Delle Donne. That atmosphere of "we need you and we're happy to have you" could make a big difference in how de Souza feels about this change at this time in her career.
What de Souza might bring to the Sky beyond this season -- next year is the Olympics again, of course -- is another question. But what she can bring this season is a veteran presence at center who has a lot of playoff experience.
Is it rebuilding time for the Dream?
Not even two full months ago, I picked Atlanta to finish first in the East because I thought it had the fewest question marks. So much for that. The Dream are in last place in the East at 7-10.
Now, it's not as if Atlanta isn't still in playoff contention; third-place Washington is 9-6, fourth-place Connecticut 8-7, and fifth-place Indiana 8-8. The postseason is definitely still a possibility for the Dream. What seems unlikely, though, is Atlanta making a championship run this season.
Forward Sancho Lyttle is still out with a foot injury (partial tear of plantar fascia) and now de Souza is gone. Coach Michael Cooper said before the season that the starting point guard spot was supposed to be Shoni Schimmel's job, but lack of conditioning has hurt her and she's started only two games. Schimmel has spent the first half of the season just getting into shape; the good news is she's made a lot of progress in that regard.
It's all added up to guard/forward Angel McCoughtry once again being forced to do too much. She's leading the team in scoring (20.5) and assists (3.5). Even as great a player as she is, the Dream must figure out ways to really effectively help her. I'm not very confident that will happen to the degree it needs to this year, but maybe these moves will lead in the right direction.
"We're struggling in a lot of areas, but I think the main thing is chemistry," McCoughtry told espnW at Saturday's All-Star Game. "I'm hoping during this break, we can clear our minds and things will get better. It's not over; as much as we've been losing, we're still in there. We're not going to give up.
"But it's been good in terms of learning for me, because I feel like my leadership skills this year have improved."
Her leadership will be needed more than ever with the Dream getting younger. Dantas and Gray are both 22. Dantas, who is from Brazil, is in her second WNBA season and is further along professionally than Gray, who was the No. 16 overall draft pick in April out of Cal. They both have promise, but need a lot of development.
The Dream have made the playoffs every season since drafting McCoughtry No. 1 overall in 2009. She doesn't want that streak to end.
But by the same token, ending up in the 2016 draft lottery -- along with having the first-round pick from Minnesota -- wouldn't be the worst thing for the Dream.