WNBA Free Agency 2021: Kia Nurse to Phoenix, Natasha Howard to NY, KLS to Seattle, No. 1 overall pick traded twice

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Soooo….February 10th 2021 was a day our beloved WNBA decided to be…well….extra.

As in … extra, extra – read all about it.

With the exception of a few notable players re-upping with their incumbent teams such as Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas returning to the Connecticut Sun and LaToya Sanders returning to the Washington Mystics, the WNBA free agency waters had become calm. They were tranquil … almost … too tranquil.

Until Phoenix Mercury general manager Jim Pitman, Minnesota Lynx general manager Cheryl Reeve, Seattle Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis, New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb and Dallas Wings general manager Greg Bibb threw huge boulders in the river that is WNBA free agency and affected the currents.

And Clarendon’s team, the Liberty, was at the center of those moves.

Remember that whole thing about New York winning the draft lottery for the second year in a row after a season where the Lib only came away from the bubble with only two victories. Apparently, Kolb and company at Atlantic & Flatbush are tired of winning draft lotteries and want to get the Liberty back in the business of winning games.

New York traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Storm plus sent 2019 All-Star Kia Nurse plus 2020 draftee Megan Walker to the Phoenix Mercury. Stephanie Talbot was also sent Seattle’s way in the deal.

With it, the Liberty got back three-time WNBA champion and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard in the deal from the Storm. Sami Whitcomb will also be headed Brooklyn’s way in the deal.

Who would have guessed that between Diana Taurasi, Kia Nurse and Megan Walker that Phoenix Suns Arena would have essentially become an extension of the UConn campus?

The Mercury did the deal with the notion that it still wants to contend – even with all of its veteran talent. Nurse helps with that being a former All-Star. In addition, any move made by Jim Pitman has to be done with the idea that the GOAT is not going to be around forever, so it is better to prepare for a post-Taurasi future for Phoenix than sit idle until she (eventually) calls it a career.

As for the Liberty, dealing the No. 1 overall pick may be seen as a perception by WNBA GMs of how they view this draft class. General managers probably believe that this draft class is devoid of someone with superstar potential such as a Chennedy “Hollywood” Carter, a Ty Harris, a Satou Sabally or a Sabrina Ionescu (who the Liberty, of course, selected tops overall in the 2020 draft).

The 2021 draft will still feature Texas’ Charli Collier, a 6-foot-5 big out of Texas, but general managers may be waiting for future drafts when talents such as Aliyah Boston (South Carolina Gamecocks), Rhyne Howard (Kentucky Wildcats) and Paige Bueckers (UConn Huskies) become available.

It is a sign that Kolb is ready to move forward with the next phase of the New York rebuild – and that involves getting veteran talent with championship experience as Howard and Whitcomb bring to, what is otherwise, still a very young New York team.

The magnitude of Natasha choosing to be in New York cannot be overstated. She is an All-WNBA talent who has worked for and earned everything that she has achieved, who has contributed to championship runs on multiple teams, and who will fit seamlessly into Walt Hopkins’ system.

–Jonathan Kolb, Liberty general manager (release)

Sami Whitcomb will be an instant fan favorite, not only for her elite shot making ability, but also for her tenacity and drive. A two-time champion in her own right, Sami knows what it takes to win in this league, and is exactly the kind of tough, talented, culture-first player we covet in New York.

–Jonathan Kolb, Liberty general manager (release)

As for the Storm, who would have guessed that we would be talking about Seattle as a team stockpiling on draft picks. Phoenix is sending its 2022 first round selection to the Storm and the Liberty are sending a 2022 second round selection Seattle’s way as well.

Those draft picks were not the only thing headed the Storm’s way either. In a separate deal with the Minnesota Lynx, Minnesota sent Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, a surprising first round selection from the 2020 draft to the Storm. In exchange, the Lynx get a 2022 first round pick from the Mercury.

Then … there’s the Dallas factor, which Seattle had no problems tapping into. The wheeling and dealing continued between the Storm and Wings as Seattle acquired Katie Lou Samuelson in exchange for … the first overall pick in this year’s draft.

In exchange, the Wings are sending a 2022 second-rounder to the Storm.

You know it is a huge day when USA Basketball checks in to get a bird’s eye view of the madness that was February 10, 2021 in the W.

Samuelson to Seattle sets up another UConn reunion with Breanna Stewart. And given Sue Bird is also a Husky alum, are the Storm becoming a UConn northwest campus?

Interestingly enough, the Storm got Samuelson in exchange for the first overall pick which was sent Dallas’ way. One may question if Samuelson is worth a first overall pick. She is a good player, obviously, but trading that pick may be another sign of how general managers look at this year’s draft class.

Similar to what the Mercury are in, the Storm are in a spot where they have to start planning for a future without Sue Bird. Seattle got two 2022 second round draft picks in this deal – one from the Wings and one from the Liberty. Getting Samuelson may be an indication of that approach.

Obviously, the Wings do not see things the same way Kolb, Valavanis and other general managers may look at it because Dallas, in previous years, has not met a draft pick it does not like. Its post Skylar Diggins-Smith-rebuild has been centered on compiling draftees and that approach has resulted in striking gold with Arike Ogunbowale (MVP candidate from the bubble last year), Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie and Ty Harris among others.

Now, Dallas, in a draft perceived as weak (in part because of the historic strength of last year’s), has four first round selections again. One of those selections is almost guaranteed to be Collier because she already plays down the street from the Metroplex at Texas and the Wings need a post presence to compliment Ogunbowale and Sabally.

With everything that went down on this one day, we are all asking the same question …

The Lynx were the only team in the five-team blockbuster that still had some wheeling and dealing to do earlier in the following week. Apparently, Tamika Catchings, the general manager of the Indiana Fever threw yet another boulder (albeit, slightly smaller than last week’s) in the river – with some help from Dan Padover, the Las Vegas Aces general manager.

Indiana acquired Lindsay Allen from the Aces and the final pick of the second round of this year’s draft with Las Vegas getting an early second round selection in this year’s draft. The Lynx got the Fever’s second round pick in next year’s draft. Indy also received two more draft picks from Minnesota in next year’s draft plus exclusive negotiating rights with Temi Fagbenle.

Odyssey Sims was also acquired in the deal, but she was later waived by the Fever, putting her on the free agent market.


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