September 16, 2021
The Next presents: An Oakland WNBA expansion draft simulation (Part 2 of 2)
The picks are in
It’s been a long time since the las WNBA expansion. But the need to accommodate all the talent in the women’s game has been a subject of increasing concern for all, from players to the commissioner. And so when we saw the city of Oakland move to position itself as the 13th market in the league, a conversation sprung up among the group here at The Next: what would such a redistribution look like?
So we ran a full simulation. Here, in Part 1 of it, you heard from each of our 12 WNBA beat reporters, who submitted protected lists. After the protected lists were submitted, Howard Megdal, the GM of the new Oakland WNBA franchise, had a chance to negotiate with each of the other GMs. Trade offers of future assets to either leave folks unprotected, or for teams to offer Howard the chance to gain additional assets for the right not to select someone, were both on the table.
Here’s how that played out.
Once I received the protected lists from the other would-be GMs, I knew some teams offered me a clear path. Others? Well, let’s take Dallas, for example. Their collection of rookie-contract talent meant that even with everyone protected, I still had an opportunity to add Bella Alarie, Awak Kuier or Chelsea Dungee, a collection of top-five picks from the past two seasons.
So when Arie Graham approached me to ask what I’d be willing to take in assets to not select Alarie, I had to be clear-eyed about it. Alarie is a future star, in my view, and has only reinforced that since we conducted this draft during the Olympic break. But was there a future asset plus a current teammate who could make it worth my while to skip Alarie in the expansion draft?
Then there’s Jersey product Jocelyn Willoughby, who is missing the 2021 season, but possesses the two-way skill set that makes her both valuable generally in the modern WNBA and specifically to the way the New York Liberty play. She’s also from New Jersey. Jackie Powell knew I’d be interested in her. So talks commenced with New York as well.
And then there’s Connecticut, who has received vital bench contributions from Natisha Hiedeman, Beatrice Mompremier and Kaila Charles, but could only protect Hiedeman without putting most of its core in jeopardy. Jacqueline LeBlanc also, astutely, protected Alyssa Thomas ahead of her return.
And notably, Seattle GM Em Adler was extremely aggressive on Slack, messaging me before the lists were even completed and working to acquire a vital player she saw as necessary to win a title: Aerial Powers. Given the specific areas Seattle has struggled since the break, it’s hard to argue with the intensity of her efforts.
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My initial long list of potential picks, once I subtracted the protected players, ran to 27 over the 12 teams.
As you can see, a lot of this came down to different choices depending on how I wanted to allocate roster balance, salaries, and even shape my contention window. Take Washington, for example: I have a pair of players on there, Sydney Wiese and Erica McCall, who would provide, in my view, a combination of physical youth and basketball veteran savvy that can help teach my new team how to win. But should Elena Delle Donne wish to relocate to the Bay Area, well, that long-shot could help bring people to the arena right away, and if she is healthy, make me an immediate contender. (Ultimately, I determined that EDD probably wouldn’t forsake her family for my Oakland expansion project if she wasn’t willing to do it for, you know, Geno.)
With this list in mind, I turned to the trades. First: Dallas. I may live to regret it, but I accepted the Wings’ 2022 first from Arie Graham in exchange for a promise not to take Alarie. I posited that given my younger team, an extra year of control that comes with Awak Kuier’s contract would be valuable as well.
Then: New York. I accepted New York’s first offer of their first-rounder in exchange for not taking Willoughby. I let the GM Powell know, after the deal was consummated, that I also would have accepted the rights to Han Xu.
Despite her aggressiveness, Em Adler was unable to cement a deal to get me to take Aerial Powers from Minnesota and send her to Seattle. I saw Powers as a building block for my new team, and while I understood Alyssa Graham’s reasoning behind leaving her unprotected — she thinks 2021 is a potential title-winning season, and could not risk being without Layshia Clarendon, whose absence has further reinforced this thinking — Powers is a rare WNBA talent. And Adler’s offers reflected this: Jordin Canada, two first-rounders and a second, provided I’d take Katie Lou Samuelson and then deal her back to Seattle in this trade. So, in short: I get the three picks and Canada, Seattle gets Powers and Samuelson.
Ultimately, I decided I needed building block talent, and was only willing to engage on Powers if Ezi Magbegor was part of the return package. That was too rich for Adler, and our conversations (on this front, not as people —we still talk plenty) ended. I did not think the draft picks of a team that employs Breanna Stewart were likely to produce lottery picks anytime from now until the earth crashes into the sun.
Finally, Jacqueline LeBlanc really wanted to protect Kaila Charles. And she had a chance: I also like Mompremier. But this is an expansion pool with a plethora of bigs and a dearth of guards, and Charles’ ability to shoot the three is a vital component of the roster I was putting together. LeBlanc offered me a 2022 second round pick and any other unprotected player, then added a third-round pick. But I told her I needed a 2022 first. I’d have taken, so we’re clear, other packages as well, but I didn’t feel the need to waste LeBlanc’s time with, say, a Jonquel Jones proposal.
In a statement issued to me on Slack, LeBlanc wrote: “I will concede, but I hope it makes the article that I tried everything to keep Kaila (although probably wasn’t very prepared) and I instead decided to save the franchise by keeping Jonquel Jones haha.” As always, we at The Next appreciate the general manager transparency.
With these trade talks concluded, I made the following selections.
From Atlanta: Raquel Carrera
From Chicago: Azura Stevens
From Connecticut: Kaila Charles
From Dallas: Awak Kuier
From Indiana: Victoria Vivians
From Las Vegas: Destiny Slocum
From Los Angeles: Amanda Zahui B.
From Minnesota: Aerial Powers
From New York: Michaela Onyenwere
From Phoenix: Alanna Smith
From Seattle: Katie Lou Samuelson
From Washington: Sydney Wiese
This left me with a team that likely starts Slocum at point guard, Charles at the 2, Powers at the 3, KLS or Stevens at the 4 and Zahui B. at the 5, with plenty of time in the rotation for everyone. There’s depth at every spot, even point guard, where Carrera has the potential to grow into a long-term answer at a position that’s hard to fill. And I’m already smiling at the thought of Amanda Zahui B. showing up in the Oakland community for events.
Not that training camp will be absent any drama: I’d enter 2022 camp with my own pick, New York’s pick and Dallas’ pick. As of now, that’s at least one lottery selection, and the Liberty’s matchup against Washington tomorrow would carry with it extra drama in this scenario, echoes of when Atlanta dealt what turned out to be Diamond DeShields to Chicago.
Now how do I think this team would do? I think we’d be competitive. I think we wouldn’t finish 13th in a 13-team league. I think our ceiling would have a lot to do with whether I could get the number one overall pick, for instance, and draft Rhyne Howard. And if I could get my hands on a second lottery pick, the new young core would include Howard and, say, NaLyssa Smith or Naz Hillmon. That’s a dangerous team right away.
Ultimately, since this is all a fictional exercise, what I know for sure is this: Oakland remains an incredible market for WNBA expansion. Whoever ends up on a team out there, it’s going to be a great move for the league. Here’s hoping we get to report in this kind of detail about the actual goings-on in Oakland here at The Next as soon as possible.