Veteran Sun players pushed for Courtney Williams' return

Veteran Sun players pushed for Courtney Williams’ return

During free agency two years ago, Jonquel Jones – a few months removed from a stinging WNBA Finals loss in Game 5 – reached out to DeWanna Bonner about leaving the Phoenix Mercury to join the Connecticut Sun. In a stunning move, adding the crafty veteran with multiple championships to her name alongside Jones and Alyssa Thomas looked like the beginning of a championship team.

Two years later, and the Sun’s only glimpse of Jones, Bonner and Thomas on the floor together came in the last two weeks of the 2021 season, including their semifinal loss to the Chicago Sky. The Sun looked unstoppable for most of the season, but they struggled to score against the Sky and lacked practice with the new rotations. Thomas also wasn’t fully recovered from an Achilles injury during the postseason.

Returning to the Sun on a two-year deal, Jones is determined to bring Connecticut its first championship in franchise history. And after falling short again last season, Jones knew exactly who she wanted to help the team get there.

Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller told reporters on Wednesday that Jones, along with other veterans on the team, advocated strongly for All-Star guard Courtney Williams’ return and that the move was driven by Sun players.

“There was talk that [Jones and Williams] wanted to play together again in their WNBA career,” Miller said. “Fortunately, it worked out quickly and we were able to bring Courtney back.”

Williams was a major spark for the Sun’s Finals run in 2019. She spent most of the first four years of her career in Connecticut, averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in her last season with the Sun.

“Courtney has always been a part of us,” Jones said in a team statement. “She was instrumental in our run in 2019 and when she left it was sad to see her go. Knowing that we had an opportunity to get her back meant a lot and for us it just feels like a family member has finally come back home!”

According to Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats, Jones signed a two-year deal starting at $205,000 – a little more than $20,000 under the supermax salary that came with the original core offer. The extra cap space gave the Sun enough to offer Williams a one-year protected deal worth $103,000.

“Any great player in any sports league in any franchise wants to have more open dialogue on what the roster looks like,” Miller said. “So when you have those conversations with JJ and she says, ‘We need Courtney Williams,’ we need Courtney Williams. You listen to JJ.”

Miller said Williams is “the premier rebounding guard in the league.” Her 6.8 rebounds per game last season ranked 13th in the league and the best among guards – more than a full board ahead of the next highest guard, Sabrina Ionescu with 5.7 per game. Rebounding has been the core of the Sun’s identity, and Williams is expected to build on that strength.

“She pursues the ball. She’s a willing rebounder – obviously a terrific athlete – but she’s just really got a nose for the ball,” Miller said. “Courtney plays with a bunch of energy and effort that allows her to be a really good defensive rebounding guard in our league.”

The Sun lost Briann January, who Miller has called the best defensive two-guard in the league. January signed a one-year contract to play what she’s said will be her final WNBA season for her hometown Seattle Storm. According to Cohen, January signed for $140,000 – more than the Sun could afford while also re-signing Jones.

Williams will likely step into January’s role, starting alongside Jasmine Thomas. While most known for her aggressive offense, Miller said the same effort and energy that make Williams a good rebounder can also make her disruptive on defense.

The 2021 video of Williams in a fight that led the Atlanta Dream to announce they wouldn’t re-sign her isn’t a concern to the Sun. Her love for the game is contagious and spreads to her teammates every day in practice, but also to the fans, Miller said.

“I think being back around what she would say are her sisters and the love that she feels not only from the veteran players, but our fan base and our franchise, there’s a comfort level coming off the year she had to be back with this family ,” Miller said.

The Sun hope this is the year the long-awaited big three of Jones, Thomas and Bonner truly play together. And the return of Williams has brought another level of excitement to the team after a heartbreaking finish last season.

“I don’t think this group gets enough credit. Over the last five years, since 2017, the Connecticut Sun have won the most regular-season games,” Miller said. “But we’re in pro sports, and it’s about a championship, and we’ve yet to win a championship. So we’re gonna keep scratching and clawing until we bring the first championship to Connecticut.”

The Sun also signed Taja Cole, a 5’8 guard currently playing in Athletes Unlimited, and Joyner Holmes, a 6’3 forward who has WNBA experience with New York and Las Vegas, to training camp contracts on Wednesday. The Sun now have 13 players on their roster, and with a maximum of 15 players allowed, it’s likely that Miller will extend a few more camp invites before April.

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