WNBA trade grades: Fever trade Teaira McCowan to Wings in deal involving five first-round draft picks

WNBA trade grades: Fever trade Teaira McCowan to Wings in deal involving five first-round draft picks

This time of the year is typically pretty quiet in the WNBA. With free agency all wrapped up, and the draft and training camps still a month away, there’s not too much for teams to do besides wait and prepare. That is, unless you’re the Dallas Wings and Indiana Fever, apparently.

On Monday, those two teams broke this stretch of inactivity by announcing a surprising trade. The Fever have sent Teaira McCowan, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 Draft along with a 2023 first-round pick (via Chicago) to the Wings in exchange for the No. 4 and 6 overall picks in the 2022 Draft and the Wings ‘2023 first-round pick.

Swapping the Nos. 6 and 7 picks this year is a wash, and the Fever are taking a fair bet that the Wings’ 2023 pick will be more valuable than the Sky’s. But unless there ends up being a massive difference between those 2023 picks, this is essentially McCowan for the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft.

While the Fever have had an eventful offseason, trading one of their only productive players from last season was not a move anyone had on their radar. Likewise, there was no reason to expect the Wings to trade for another big after taking centers with the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in last year’s draft.

So why might these teams have made this deal? Let’s grade the trade:

Fever receive:

  • No. 4 overall pick in 2022 draft
  • No. 6 overall pick in 2022 draft
  • 2023 first-round pick (via Dallas)

The Fever have been the worst team in the league for the past five seasons, going a combined 40-116, with 67 of those losses coming by double-digits. They are mired in the longest playoff drought in franchise history, and have waived their last three first-round picks, including lottery selections Lauren Cox and Kysre Gondrezick.

This winter, the poor results and drafting record finally cost Tamika Catchings her job. The franchise legend, who was initially hired as VP of basketball operations following her playing days, also assumed the role of general manager in 2019. She stepped down and was replaced by Lin Dunn, who has taken on the GM role on an interim basis.

Dunn, who coached the Fever from 2008-14, and led the team to its only title in 2012, is clearly set on creating a fresh slate. Even if she wasn’t a star, McCowan was one of the few wins the Fever had in the draft recently. Now, following this trade, the Fever have just one draft pick from the last three years remaining on the roster — 2021 third-round pick Chelsey Perry.

Furthermore, they have just three players on the books beyond this season, and four picks in the first round this year: No. 2, 4, 6 and 10. Heading into the draft, and looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, Dunn now has all sorts of flexibility to reshape this roster in her image.

She is on record as saying she loves this group of players, telling ESPN in February, “As of today, it’s a very strong draft class.” Whether the Fever will actually make four picks, however, remains to be seen. One name to watch here is Rhyne Howard. Before joining the Fever, Dunn had been working as a coaching advisor with the University of Kentucky, where Howard has starred for the past few years. Howard is the likely No. 1 pick, but Dunn may acquired enough assets to trade up if she really wants to get her. If not, Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith at No. 2 is not a bad consolation prize.

Until we see what the Fever do with these picks, it’s hard to fully grade the move. This was a bit like the classic mystery box scene from The Simpsons, where Dunn looked at McCowan — a solid and reliable center — and then at the draft picks and said, “The box! The box!” It’s easy to understand that impulse, but only time will tell if it was the right decision.

Grade: C

Wings receive:

  • Teaira McCowan
  • No. 7 overall pick in 2022 draft
  • 2023 first-round pick (via Chicago)

The Wings had perhaps the most low-key offseason of any team in the league prior to this move. They signed Arike Ogunbowale to a super-max extension, but otherwise did nothing of note. With a young team in the early stages of a rebuild, it made sense to stand pat and let this group grow together.

Packaging some of their draft assets or a young player or two in a trade made sense at some point in the future, but it was a surprise to see them do so right now. And even more so that they went out and got a center considering they just drafted two bigs — Charli Collier and Awak Kuier — with the No. 1 and 2 overall picks last year. With Satou Sabally, Isabelle Harrison and Bella Alarie also on the roster, the Wings suddenly have a very crowded frontcourt.

McCowan is coming off the most productive season of her career, in which she nearly averaged a double-double (11.3 points and 9.6 rebounds) and was tied for fourth in the league in blocks per game at 1.6. There’s no question she’ll be the best center on the Wings this season.

She’ll also be a free agent in 2023, and the Wings don’t make this trade unless they plan on paying her. So does she move the needle enough — both now and in the future — that it was worth giving up a lottery pick and potentially blocking the development of Collier and Kuier to get her?

The Wings obviously believe so, but given some of McCowan’s limitations there’s certainly no guarantee there. It’s also fair to wonder about their team building process. Why draft two bigs back-to-back, play them sparingly in their rookie seasons, then go trade for a center that will further limit their opportunities?

Grade: C+

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