February 10, 2023
Sun vision for roster looks clearer after Tiffany Hayes acquisition
Hayes becomes de facto third piece in Jonquel Jones trade as Connecticut flip No. 6 pick for the UConn alum.
Questions about the Connecticut Sun’s direction have been swirling since the team traded 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and long-time captain point guard Jasmine Thomas, but the Sun showed they’re still focused on winning this season as they traded a first-round pick for the right to sign veteran Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes on Thursday.
Even before blowing up their contending core, the Sun were clear that improving their backcourt and three-point shooting was a priority for the offseason. Hayes, who was first-team All-WNBA and All-Defensive Second Team in 2018, has shot 41.2 percent on 3.8 attempts per game in two injury-shortened seasons since sitting out the 2020 season.
Sun GM Darius Taylor told The Next that Hayes – who he coached in Atlanta – is a two-way player and a three-level scorer who won’t have to carry as much of the load in Connecticut as she has in Atlanta.
The Sun are now without a pick in the first round of the draft, trading their own pick along with Thomas to the Los Angeles Sparks, and now trading the No. 6 pick they received from the New York Liberty as part of the deal for Jones. Taylor said they chose to go with the player who helps them win right away.
“I think there’s a lot of good talent in the draft,” Taylor said. “But just where we are as a team and what we’re trying to accomplish, we felt like the depth we would have and the experience, it just made more sense to add a player of Tiffany Hayes’ stature.”
The Sun also locked in restricted free agent Natisha Hiedeman, the team’s best three-point shooter who will return on a two-year deal reportedly worth $120,000 a year. After shifting to point guard to fill in for the injured Jasmine Thomas last season, she could split point guard duties with Tyasha Harris, who the Sun acquired from the Dallas Wings as part of the Jonquel Jones trade.
“We’ll be just fine at the point guard spot with those two, and then if we happen to identify another player that we’d really like to look at [in training camp], we’ll do that,” Taylor said.
The Sun weren’t able to keep fan favorite guard Courtney Williams, who reportedly signed a one-year, $160,000 contract with the Chicago Sky. After Williams decided to move on to a new chapter, Taylor said Hayes became the obvious choice to bolster their backcourt with a veteran guard.
After the Sun traded for her rights, Hayes can only negotiate with Connecticut since her prior contract ended while she was suspended by the Dream. The suspension occurred when she left the team before the end of the season for a 3v3 tournament for Azerbaijan – the country she became a citizen of in 2015.
Taylor said they are still working out contract details with the two-time NCAA National Champion and UConn alum, but the plan is for her to play this season. Assuming a deal is reached, the Sun will be just the second WNBA team Hayes has played for, as the 5’10” guard spent the first 10 seasons of her career in Atlanta.
With Hayes in the fold, the Sun will head into the season with a new-look backcourt rotation of Hayes, Hiedeman, Rebecca Allen, Tyasha Harris and Nia Clouden. The Sun will also have wings DeWanna Bonner and DiJonai Carrington to fit around the powerful frontcourt duo of Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, who currently have USK Praha in second place in Group A of the Euroleague.
The team cored Brionna Jones, meaning she has the option to accept a one-year supermax contract if Jones and the team can’t come to an agreement on a contract with different terms. Taylor said he was hopeful the Sun would re-sign the 2022 Sixth Woman of the Year and 2021 Most Improved Player to a multi-year deal.
“That is the hope, but we’re still negotiating and trying to work things out,” he said.
The Sun also have six frontcourt players on unprotected or training camp contracts who will likely compete in camp to fill out two final spots on the roster: Joyner Holmes, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Lauren Cox and Kristine Anigwe.
“There’s a lot of time between now and camp, so there’s always opportunities that things could change,” Taylor said. “But we feel good about our roster once we get [Hayes and Jones] shored up, and whatever else happens, we’ll just have to see.”