February 14, 2023
Chicago Sky make high-risk move in trade for Marina Mabrey
Mabrey fits, but draft capital lost could hurt long-term
“You can tell by the way that I draft that I like to take chances.”
There might not be a better quote summing up James Wade’s philosophy as a general manager than the one he gave The Next last May. Throughout his time as head coach and GM of the Chicago Sky, Wade has had no interest operating under the belief his team can’t compete for a title. Pushing all the chips into the center of the poker table for the chance of netting a championship – no matter how much the odds may be stacked against him and his team – is simply in his DNA.
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That idea proved to be the case again when Chicago was involved in a four-team trade that brought in former Dallas Wings guard Marina Mabrey. Here’s the full breakdown of what the Sky gave up in order to bring her into the fold.
- What Chicago received: Mabrey (from Dallas via sign-and-trade), 2024 second round pick (from Phoenix)
- What Chicago sent out: The rights to Leonie Fiebich (to New York), 2024 second round pick (to New York), 2024 third round pick (to Phoenix), 2025 second round pick (to Phoenix), 2023 No. 5 overall pick (to Dallas), 2024 first round pick (to Dallas) and the rights to swap 2025 first round picks (Dallas with Chicago)
This haul of future draft capital the Sky sent out in this trade has a chance to define the franchise for years to come. Here are the positives and negatives of the deal as the 2023 season inches closer to its start.
While the price to get her was hefty, Mabrey is exactly the type of player the front office should want to surround Copper with in 2023.
The Sky landed a high-upside versatile scorer in Mabrey which, to a certain degree, will help alleviate the blow of losing Allie Quigley. According to Synergy Sport Tech, Mabrey connected on 40.8% of her 98 catch and shoot opportunities last year. Her three-point percentage has dipped in each of the last two seasons after she shot 41.8% on 5.1 attempts in 2020 but plugging her into a different scheme that doesn’t involve a high-usage player like Arike Ogunbowale could open up her game offensively.
The Sky’s biggest bet in acquiring Mabrey is her improvement as a facilitator in the second half of last season. After Ogunbowale was sidelined early in August, former Wings head coach Vickie Johnson had Mabrey take on a larger role initiating offense for Dallas. The result? Mabrey was fourth in total assists in the month of August and led the league in assists at the rim during that period. Losing Courtney Vandersloot, Candace Parker and Emma Meesseman, all of whom were integral to opening up opportunities at the basket in 2022, will sting this upcoming season. However, Mabrey has a chance to surprise some folks when she takes on the bulk of running Chicago’s offense in 2023.
Outside of her actual statistical production, pairing Mabrey with Copper is going to be an entertaining spectacle when the two take the floor. There might not be a bigger trash talker in the league than Mabrey, whose physicality on both ends speaks for itself. Wade told the Chicago Tribune the team’s style of play this year is going to be “tough-nosed, grind-it-out basketball.” Between Mabrey, Copper, Rebekah Gardner and recently signed guard Courtney Williams, the team is well on its way to establishing a new identity as it begins a new era.
There’s been a ton of commotion over the loss of future draft assets since the deal was completed but the loss of the No. 5 overall pick this year isn’t a steep one. In a top-heavy draft, the potential of Mabrey, 26, blooming in what could be the prime years of her career is well worth jettisoning the Sky’s 2023 selection.
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While Mabrey has a chance to develop into an all-star over the next three years in Chicago, the amount of draft equity the Sky sent out in this deal is a move only a team on the precipice of winning a title should make.
By not retaining Vandersloot, Parker, Meesseman, Quigley and Azurá Stevens, the Sky lost five of the top six players who played the most minutes for Chicago last year. Continuity is one of the most important factors when projecting contenders for an upcoming season and the only players remaining from the Sky’s 2021 title run are Copper, Dana Evans and Ruthy Hebard. This roster is not close to being the same team that won a championship two years ago or the one that won a franchise-record 26 games in 2022.
On top of not having the same level of talent as the last two iterations of the Sky, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton pointed out this is the first trade in WNBA history in which a team gave up its control of both first-round picks beyond this year. A new rule change that went into effect this year gave teams the ability to trade their first-round picks two years into the future. Chicago went full steam ahead and gave up its 2024 first rounder but also the rights for Dallas to swap first-round picks in 2025. With the amount of high-end talent coming up through the pipeline, this has a chance to derail the team’s future if they miss out on being able to select from one of the deepest talent pools in WNBA draft history.
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The Sky are betting on the league being wide open outside of the two juggernauts at the top in the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces. Because draft lottery odds are determined by a two-year cumulative record, the Sky might not have the best chance at landing a lottery pick in 2024 after going 26-10 last year. A team headlined by Copper could remain competitive even if it isn’t in the same conversation as the Liberty and Aces.
The 2025 pick is a different story. Copper has one year remaining on her deal and can test free agency. Teams most likely would be willing to move mountains for the chance of obtaining a two-way all-star like Copper. If she were to move on from the Sky after this year and the team doesn’t perform up the standard it has set for itself the last two years, Chicago would be left vulnerable in giving up what could be a prized first rounder in another loaded draft class.
James Wade isn’t afraid to take chances if he believes staying competitive in the short-team is worth mortgaging the future for (the team can still trade back in to next year’s draft for what it is worth). However, what is on the line could upend the franchise’s future for years to come.