On a Sunday afternoon last August, the New York Liberty played the Seattle Storm at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn—a one-game respite from the undersized Westchester County Center the team had called home for two seasons.
Everything was bigger in Brooklyn.
Nearly 8,000 fans—more than three times as many as the team’s average for 2019—showed out in seafoam. A fiery torch punctuated player introductions. The team’s long-time mascot, Maddie, exhausted herself exploring the new digs.
Late in the second quarter, Tina Charles posted up 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard and called for the ball.
She was positioned out on the wing, a step in from the 3-point line. Upon receiving the entry pass, she pivoted, momentarily face-to-face with her defender. A quick pump-fake, and Howard bit. Charles drove right, keeping Howard on her back hip.
Sami Whitcomb came across the paint to help, but Charles anticipated that. She tossed up a one-handed floater, her right arm clear from any defensive pressure. Bottom of the net:
Though the Storm pulled away in the second half, the Liberty played competitively for the first 20 minutes. This was thanks in large part to Charles, who scored 20 of her 22 points before the halftime horn.
Unfortunately, it was the last time she would take the Barclays floor as a member of the home team.
Wednesday morning, just two days ahead of the 2020 WNBA Draft, the New York Liberty traded its franchise scoring leader. Charles, the seven-time All-Star joins the Washington Mystics, bolstering a frontcourt that already carries MVP Elena Delle Donne, WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders.
(The Dallas Wings, who had been sitting on six picks in this draft, were involved as a third team to help facilitate the deal.)
“Tina Charles is a name that will forever be synonymous with New York basketball,” Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb said in a team statement.
“Over the past six seasons, Tina has cemented herself not only in the Liberty record books but in the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere due to her tireless and selfless work in the community.”
The kid from Queens made NY proud.
— WSLAM (@wslam) April 15, 2020
THE END OF AN ERA
Charles leaves New York after six seasons and an All-Star in five. She was drafted first overall out of UConn by the Connecticut Sun, taking home the 2012 MVP while averaging 18.1 ppg and 9.5 rpg. over the course of her decade in the W.
When she chose to leave the Sun, it was to come home. Charles grew up in Jamaica, Queens and played her high school ball at Christ the King in Middle Village, Queens. Her father, Rawlston Charles, is a Calypso and Soca record producer, the founder of Charlie’s Records. He also owns the famous Charlie’s Calypso City Record Store in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
In 2019, Tina Charles explored her father’s life in her directorial debut, “Charlie’s Records,” with the documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.
All her roots are in NYC, and she survived the last two turbulent years at the Westchester County Center, a gym reminiscent more of a D-III college than a WNBA arena. Now, with the Liberty poised to call Brooklyn’s Barclays Center home, Charles is off to D.C., rumored to have asked to be dealt.
Why did she want out?
A CLOSING WINDOW
For a 31-year-old, 10-year pro still seeking her first championship, the priority is most likely winning at this stage of her career.
What team gives her a better chance than the Mystics, who hoisted the trophy at the end of last season? Charles will also be reunited with head coach Mike Thibault, who coached her in Connecticut during her first three seasons as a professional.
At the very least, the move to Washington will ease much of the workload Charles has taken on throughout her career. She hasn’t taken fewer than 15 shots per game since her 2010 rookie campaign. Last season, her 29.6 usage percentage topped the entire WNBA. Charles has finished top-six in usage every season since 2014.
She also struggled mightily in 2019 with the 10-24 Liberty.
Despite her league-leading usage, she shot a career-low 38.9 percent from the field, far below her career mark of 45.0. Her 16.9 ppg. were her lowest since her rookie year, and her 7.5 rpg. were a full two boards below her career average. Among players who attempted at least one 3-pointer per game, Charles’ 18.6 percent landed her in the league’s bottom 10.
Charles’ desire to move on from New York might have also been in the team’s best interest, and it’s often difficult to end a relationship with a superstar on the decline. But did New York get enough in return?
BREAKING DOWN THE DEAL
There were a flurry of moves at the start of free agency, several involving players of Charles’ talent tier. Two deals in particular—involving DeWanna Bonner and Skylar Diggins-Smith—would be fair comparisons to this transaction.
The Connecticut Sun dealt three first-round picks to the Phoenix Mercury—Nos. 7 and this year, and one in 2021—in exchange for DeWanna Bonner.
Phoenix then flipped that No. 7 pick, along with their No. 5 pick and a 2021 first-rounder, to Dallas for Skylar Diggins-Smith.
Like Phoenix and Dallas, New York obtained three first-rounders in return for their star, though both fall at the tail end, (Nos. 9 and 12). The team also acquired No. 15 this year, plus Washington’s first, second, and third next year, though they forfeit their own second to Dallas.
They also absorb the final year of Tayler Hill’s fully protected contract, worth $117,000, and the last year of Shatori Walker-Kimbrough’s rookie deal, a non-guaranteed $68,000 (according to HerHoopStats). New York is already a guard-rich team, so taking back two players at that position is somewhat of a head-scratcher.
However, they’re suddenly sitting on six picks for this Friday’s WNBA Draft: 1, 9, 12, 13, 15, and 26.
WHO DO THEY PAIR WITH SABRINA?
New York will likely pick Sabrina Ionescu at the start of the draft. After that, anything can happen.
In an interview on Thursday’s ESPN Daily with Mina Kimes, Ionescu did not shy away from the prospect of building a contender from a lottery team:
“I did that at Oregon for the last four years, so I know exactly what it’s like having to come in and kind of build a program from the ground up. That doesn’t scare me at all, and I’m excited to be a piece of the puzzle.”
New York is likely to try and move off some of those selections, especially now that they have the draft capital to move up.
For example, New York could trade the Nos. 9 and 12 picks to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for No. 6, if it wants to ensure a pairing of Ionescu with Oregon teammate Ruthy Hebard. Many mocks don’t have Hebard falling past the Chicago Sky at No. 8, so leapfrogging them would be important.
New York could also look to trade some of its draft capital to a team that wants to move up, like the Connecticut Sun (first selection at No. 23) or the Las Vegas Aces (first selection at No. 33). Connecticut will be looking for wing help to replace Shekinna Stricklen while Vegas needs shooting.
There’s a potential match there, and New York would do well to move off a few of its selections.
As I wrote for TBW back when Walt Hopkins was first hired as New York’s new head coach, this team is ready to join the 3-point revolution.
“The teams that are the best offensively maximize their set 3-point shots,” Hopkins said during his introductory press conference. “And, fortunately, we have a lot of great 3-point shooters.”
Look for the Liberty to add even more shooting with that monopoly of selections during the late first/early second. Some players to keep an eye on in that range: Princeton’s Bella Alarie, UConn’s Megan Walker and South Carolina’s Mikiah Herbert-Harrington.
The Liberty also need some stout defense down low. Either Texas’ Joyner Holmes and Texas Tech’s Brittany Brewer could fit.
New York could also draft a player like Duke’s Leaonna Odom, who is athletic but may need time overseas to polish her game. Taking on a player’s rights without forfeiting a roster spot will likely be a wise strategy if New York doesn’t move off a few of its selections.
With the Charles era coming to an end, Ionescu will become the new face of the franchise. She’ll need to lean on New York’s other recent first-rounders Kia Nurse and Asia Durr as the team begins its tenure in Brooklyn.
After Friday night, we’ll have a better idea of who else will share that court.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.