The departure of Astou Ndour gives the Chicago Sky room to work with, but at what cost?
The Chicago Sky officially traded Astou Ndour to the Dallas Wings in exchange for the Phoenix Mercury’s 2021 first-round draft pick on Wednesday. Winsidr reporter Rachel Galligan first broke the trade on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s trade was the second step in Dallas’ shakeup which saw the Wings trade four-time All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith to Phoenix for the Mercury’s No. 5 and 7 picks in the 2020 draft, as well as the Mercury’s 2021 first-round pick, which the Sky received.
Ndour originally signed an offer sheet with the Atlanta Dream, but the Sky quickly matched it. After Jantel Lavender suffered a foot injury late last season, Ndour stood out as the Sky’s replacement starter. The 25-year-old center averaged 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 11 regular-season games last year.
“It’s a very hard day for me personally and for the Sky nation,” Sky general manager James Wade said in a press release. “Today we traded a great piece of our family in Astou. We loved Astou in a Sky uniform, but the unfortunate side of free agency is that we are forced to make decisions that make it so what you want to do, and what you have to do, does not always perfectly line up. We wish her nothing but the best.”
The trade is Chicago’s first and only official move of free agency so far, but Wade still has plenty of decisions to make. Stefanie Dolson, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot are all free agents, and both Kahleah Copper and Jamierra Faulkner are on the restricted free agency market.
What do the Sky gain?
Chicago gains significant financial flexibility in the deal. The Sky currently have more than $800,000 in cap space, according to the High Post Hoop salary database, which will make re-signing the team’s remaining free agents more feasible. Ndour would have eaten up $185,000 of that in 2020 alone, with three percent raises in 2021 and 2022 over the three-year deal.
Most notably, it will give Wade more freedom to live with any offer sheet restricted free agent Copper signs. Copper is eligible for an $185,000 mini-max deal this off-season, an offer which would have been tough to swallow with Ndour on the books and Dolson still out on the market.
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The 6’1 Copper is a ball-handling sparkplug poised for bigger contributions in the right role. The departure of Ndour frees up frontcourt minutes for Gabby Williams, who acted as the team’s backup point guard last season, and leaves room for Copper to expand her role off the bench as a wing. With Jantel Lavender back in the rotation, Cheyenne Parker still humming off the bench and Dolson possibly returning, the Sky have answers for Ndour’s departing production.
Copper could bet on herself and push for a one-year max (or near-max) deal that would give her another season to prove herself as a longer-term, big money player, and also give the Sky cap room to work with in the future.
Future flexibility no doubt played a big factor in the decision to deal Ndour. Both Jantel Lavender and Cheyenne Parker become unrestricted free agents in 2021, leaving Chicago’s front court vulnerable if Chicago can’t afford to retain its two bigs. Diamond DeShields is also due for a max deal the following year in 2022, and Williams is in store for a payday that offseason as well.
Wade can now shore up the Sky’s short-term and long-term depth on cheap rookie contracts with the eighth pick in this year’s draft as well as two first round picks in 2021. Rookie contracts from picks five through eight—where Chicago’s two 2021 picks will most likely land— start at $65,250 in 2020 and only scale up to $73,211 in those players’ third year. Chicago will get two players for around what is likely the cost of Ndour’s new contract with the Wings.
What do the Sky lose?
Chicago’s choice to deal Ndour is financially prudent, but it could age poorly if Ndour pans out in Dallas.
Ndour only played eight minutes a game before Lavender’s injury, and averaged 11.6 minutes per game the season prior. She has also missed significant time due to national team commitments. But Ndour impressed in 13 games as a starter last year.
Despite limited playtime all season and a month-long absence from the team, Ndour filled right in for Lavender as a stretch big for the Sky. Chicago owes no small part of its late-season momentum to Ndour, who immediately stepped into the starting role.
An unlocked Ndour in Wade’s offense likely increases her volume from deep, spacing the floor for slashers like DeShields and Williams. She is a 36.1% shooter from deep and her size allows her to get her shot off against scrambling defenses.
The 6’4 center also flashed an impressive touch inside last season, hitting turnaround jumpers in the post over defenders and nailing push shots in traffic.
She has also proven herself as a smart team defender who can use her length to bother opponents and play on the perimeter. While she isn’t a Liz Cambage stopper, she can hang with most of the fives in the league on defense.
Not to mention the fact that Ndour is still only 25 years old and, like Copper, could be due for a breakout season in the right role. While Chicago gains future flexibility by not taking on Ndour long term, she would render that point moot if she takes a leap forward as a starter and outplays her contract. A starting-caliber Ndour on the Sky would make it easier to handle the possible departures of Lavender and Parker in 2021.
In either case, Wade has given himself room to breath as he manages the rest of his free agents. Whether he continues to prioritize cap flexibility or hunkers down with win-now moves, he’ll have his work cut out for him building a team to compete with the stacked upper class of the league.
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