The Connecticut Sun made the lone move of the 2019 WNBA trade deadline, shipping out 2019 No. 9 overall pick Kristine Anigwe in exchange for Theresa Plaisance of the Dallas Wings.
Connecticut’s window is now. Plaisance is in her sixth year and capable of logging quality minutes as a stretch big option.
Anigwe needs time. The problem? She and Brionna Jones have been two imperfect options as 5s off the bench behind All-Star Jonquel Jones.
Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said in the team release that he’s been targeting Plaisance for “a few seasons.”
Assessing this deal centers around Plaisance’s contributions for a burgeoning contender. The Sun were ousted in single-elimination play on their home floor each of the past two seasons after securing a top-four seed. Plaisance is a pure backup considering on this team, but because she complements both Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas, she could round out a three-big rotation always playing with one while the other rests.
A 35.0 percent career 3-point shooter, Plaisance can space out while Thomas screens and rolls to score or make a play for others. Jones and Plaisance playing together makes Connecticut a little less predictable because both will pull opposing bigs away from the rim.
Part of Jones becoming a clear No. 1 option on a championship team comes down to her ability to score one-on-one and feast on mismatches. Plaisance adds value standing 25 feet from the rim, whereas Alyssa Thomas clogs up the lane if she isn’t involved in some sort of off-ball action.
Plaisance will even bolster full bench units. She and Morgan Tuck will allow the Sun to play five-out, opening up driving lanes for everybody else.
At this point, solid starter/really valuable third big is a reasonable ceiling for Anigwe. Her offensive polish and defensive recognition aren’t there to make her a dependable cog on a contender.
The Wings are headed for the lottery, so they should be in asset collection mode. Anigwe getting some run next to Azura Stevens, (currently sidelined by a foot injury), would be fascinating as a potential frontcourt of the future. Dallas’ other bigs are capped as role players.
Anigwe has some face- and post-up potential waiting to be unlocked. She shot 7-of-23 from deep as a senior at Cal and led the nation in rebounding. Stevens has more star potential but the two do share some common threads: They aren’t pure 4s or 5s; If they make the most of their skill level, athleticism and mobility, then neither will have a true position in a good way.
Protecting the front of the rim and gobbling up defensive rebounds is a much smaller piece of the pie at the highest level. What else can Anigwe become really good at defensively, and will she score enough to maximize the spacing benefits of the pro game?
The Wings have time for growing pains and losing, especially in looking to see if Anigwe can become a longtime starter. The Sun start Jones and Alyssa Thomas. as All-Stars that happen to fit very well together.
Jones is one of the league’s few young stars with the tools and talent to make a leap toward becoming much more.
Plaisance and Tuck, should the Sun retain her, are more valuable as plug-and-play reserves for a contender because of their shooting and the shooting limitations of Alyssa Thomas.
Though we haven’t seen the look as much this season, Miller can roll out super-big lineups with Thomas at the 3 and Plaisance or Tuck next to Jones.
Plaisance’s contract runs through next season, which also must be factored into the deal. Miller and the Sun will be busy this offseason with eight players hitting free agency at once. Plaisance’s contract is guaranteed, as are those of Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas per the High Post Hoops salary database.
Starting wing Shekinna Stricklen had full protection on her current deal and will be an unrestricted free agent, possibly giving Plaisance the leverage to expect the same. Jones and Courtney Williams, both pending restricted free agents, may also demand full protection. Backup point guard Layshia Clarendon will also be an unrestricted free agent.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, teams can only have six players on roster with fully guaranteed contracts. If that rule remains in place after a new CBA is ratified this offseason, other franchises could swoop in with attractive offers for some of Connecticut’s key depth pieces.
Top reserve wing Bria Holmes and Tuck will be restricted free agents. Opponents could pounce on this opportunity as Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve did last offseason.
Reeve inked an offer sheet with Atlanta Dream stretch 4 Damiris Dantas that included full protection, essentially leaving Atlanta powerless with their own restricted free agent, as it had six guaranteed contracts already. Their only option would have been to move on from another core piece of their team. (In hindsight, getting off of Alex Bentley’s deal would have made more sense—a conversation for another day.)
If another team makes a similar maneuver and Miller guarantees the new deals of his returning starters, he will be forced to choose between Plaisance and Tuck or Holmes.
That’s one way the deal could sting the Sun rather quickly, but Miller’s current core is not like the Phoenix Mercury’s—an important distinction to make evaluating a ‘win now’ move.
One of the best players in league history, Mercury All-WNBA guard Diana Taurasi is in her age-37 season. You have to exhaust every option pursuing another title for a superstar that has already led you to three.
Jasmine Thomas, 29, is the oldest member of Connecticut’s rotation, so there is time. It’s just that the salary cap will put a new strain on the team’s makeup. Those ripple effects may only touch players on the periphery, a best-case scenario for the offseason.
In that case, the Sun are in a reasonably favorable position to infuse the roster with more young talent—and perhaps more importantly, those rookie-scale contracts—through the draft. They hold their own 2020 first-round pick in addition to that of the Los Angeles Sparks by way of the Chiney Ogwumike trade.
And what if Anigwe blossoms into a perennial All-Star?
Well, for one, eight other teams did pass on her in the draft. Miller and the Sun simply weren’t going to be in a good position to find out if she’d get there, either.
Anigwe’s might make it clear down the road that Connecticut moved on too soon and didn’t get enough for her, but happy mediums don’t really exist making WNBA trades. Bench pieces and second- and third-round picks have little value as trade chips.
The Sun were the aggressors at the deadline, so they had to give something up. Dallas was wise to ask specifically for Anigwe. They have a longer runway to let her grow as they rebuild.
This specific season is also the time for a swing on the margins. The Seattle Storm’s quest for a repeat was shot before the start of the season due to injury. Taurasi still isn’t healthy for Phoenix’s hopes.
By all accounts, Plaisance knows who she is as a player and is a good presence in the locker room. She has an appealing skill set that fills some gaps around Connecticut’s core players and, at 27, she can play a role for years to come. Frontcourt depth could end up being a swing factor in the postseason, though this deal ups the pressure on Miller to turn the Sun’s 2020 first rounders into something.
Ultimately, one of 2019’s top contenders got a little bit better.
Before this team can take aim at a Finals appearance, Plaisance will be needed to accomplish a new first: Maintaining pole position in the standings and locking up a top-two seed, securing a place in a best-of-five semifinals series and foregoing a third consecutive season of single-elimination play.
All salary information and free-agent status drawn from contract details listed in the High Post Hoops salary database.
Ben Dull covers the WNBA, the WNBA Draft and women’s college basketball. His year-round coverage can be found at High Post Hoops, BBall Index, and The Basketball Writers. He is a San Diego native and recent alum of Concordia University Irvine’s Master’s of Coaching and Athletic Administration (MCAA) program.