DeWanna Goner: Phoenix Mercury trade DeWanna Bonner to Connecticut, must pivot quickly

The Phoenix Mercury now have three picks in the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft, but the rest of their roster is set up to compete right now.

The biggest move of 2020 WNBA free agency came early Tuesday as the Connecticut Sun announced they would trade three first-round picks to the Phoenix Mercury for three-time All-Star forward DeWanna Bonner.

For the Sun, the move is a no-brainer. It catapults them to the top of the WNBA hierarchy and adds a player who will make their other stars better. For Phoenix, the move is damaging.

While the Mercury were prepared for the possibility that Bonner could move on, they will now have to pivot on the fly after several dominoes have already fallen around the WNBA. Bonner had previously been re-signed using the core designation four times, and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement lowered the maximum times a player could be cored from five to four, leaving Bonner eligible for unrestricted free agency and the allure of a new situation.

Rather than simply jump to Connecticut on her own, Bonner did herself and the Mercury a favor. By technically signing a contract with Phoenix and then being traded to Connecticut, Bonner became eligible for the WNBA’s “super-maximum” contract, which guarantees a $215,000 base salary. In return, the trade allowed Phoenix to recoup some of Bonner’s value rather than watch her leave for nothing.

Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said in a statement: “We watched as she became a Sixth Woman of the Year, All-Star, All-WNBA player, and most importantly a mother. Ultimately, she has decided the next stage of her career does not include us and we wish her the best.”

Not exactly an indication of pure goodwill, but nevertheless, Phoenix will be glad it has the picks as a means of reloading around Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi.

The move makes sense for Bonner, even if the Mercury were still interested. Long unheralded playing third fiddle next to Hall of Famers Taurasi and Griner, perhaps Bonner was drawn to the idea of taking on a bigger role elsewhere. According to Rachel Galligan of Winsidr, the Dallas Wings were the other team Bonner considered. Dallas certainly would have given Bonner a larger role amid their rebuild.

Instead, Phoenix and Dallas could be linked a different way. Reports that Skylar Diggins-Smith does not want to play out the season in Dallas mean she is the top player now available in the WNBA after Bonner’s move, and the Mercury are among the teams best-suited to make a deal with the Wings.

Armed with three picks in the first round of this year’s WNBA draft, Phoenix could offer all three as well as one of its young players in order to pry Diggins-Smith from Dallas. That could include All-Rookie first-teamer Brianna Turner or fellow first-round pick Alanna Smith. Phoenix’s roster is very fluid as it currently stands, with only last year’s draft picks, Griner, Taurasi and Briann January under contract. Fortunately for Phoenix, the max contracts signed last summer for Taurasi and January are the smaller $119,500 maximums allotted under the old CBA, leaving plenty of flexibility for 2020.

Meanwhile, Diggins-Smith has been touring the country with USA Basketball this fall alongside Taurasi. Last season showed another perimeter play-maker is a bigger need for Phoenix than Bonner’s versatile defense and shot-making, so while it will require a bounty to outbid other teams for the former Notre Dame great from Dallas, the reconfiguration could benefit Phoenix.

The unknown for Phoenix going forward are what Taurasi has left in the tank after a lost season due to back and leg injuries, which makes it hard to make moves that jeopardize the long-term outlook of the franchise. Taurasi has played just 45 minutes in the US Women’s National Team’s three qualifying games, largely just as a floor-spacer. Some have posited that because of Taurasi’s potential fall-off, Phoenix could look to trade Griner and truly reset, but that seems unlikely having just cored Griner and with Taurasi under contract for one more year.

Betting against Taurasi, with all respect to those doubtful folks, is kind of crazy. Most likely is the Mercury do their best to build a contender around their two pillars this season — whether with Diggins-Smith or someone else — and worry about the future at a later date.

Phoenix is poised to be a likely playoff team in 2020 and has the rest of the year to keep building a championship contender, though Bonner just strengthened one of their top competitors for that throne.

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