March 10, 2022 

Why the Indiana Fever dealt Teaira McCowan to Dallas

The move represents a seismic change in direction for the Fever under Lin Dunn

In a blockbuster trade — the first of the Lin Dunn era — the Indiana Fever sent center Teaira McCowan to the Dallas Wings in a deal involving multiple WNBA Draft picks.

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The Fever made this move less than one month after Dunn joined the front office. Since becoming the interim general manager and senior advisor for Fever basketball operations, the new leader has clearly emphasized the draft and taken a long-term approach to team building.

“The draft is coming up in the spring and I’m optimistic about it,” Dunn shared at her introductory press conference. Those feelings likely played a factor in this trade. “It’s a very strong draft class.”

Along with McCowan, the Fever sent the seventh overall selection in the 2022 draft and a 2023 first-round pick (originally belonging to Chicago) to the Wings. Indiana acquired both of those draft selections earlier this offseason in a deal that also brought them Bria Hartley. The franchise has gone through a massive overhaul, from the front office down to the roster, this offseason.

“A lot of things went into it,” Dunn shared when discussing the trade in a call with The Next. She detailed that Greg Bibb, a basketball operations decision-maker for the Wings, had been negotiating this deal with the Fever for a while with multiple other scenarios discussed. Ultimately, making the deal now was motivated by salary cap considerations and the timing of the draft, Dunn confirmed.

In exchange for the McCowan-centered package, Indiana received the fourth and sixth overall picks in the 2022 draft as well as Dallas’ 2023 first-round pick. The Fever now own half of the top six picks in the 2022 draft as well as two potentially early selections in 2023, depending on the standings in the upcoming season. Aggregating the Fever’s two big trades this offseason, they effectively traded Julie Allemand and McCowan for the No. 4 overall pick, the No. 6 pick, the No. 20 pick, Dallas’ 2023 first-round pick, Phoenix’s 2023 second-round pick and Hartley.

“We thank Teaira for all she did with the Fever franchise in her three years with the organization and wish her the best moving forward,” Dunn said in a team-issued statement. “This was a trade offer that made sense for both teams as we head into the 2022 regular season and we are now focused on [picks] 2, 4, 6 and 10.”

McCowan, the third overall pick in the 2019 draft, is a unique loss for Indiana. She has been an interior force for the Fever in her three WNBA seasons, averaging 10.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. She was one of five players to average at least 11 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in 2021, and the other four players were all All-Stars.

“There is nobody, and I mean nobody, in our league that can stop Teaira McCowan when she plays the game the way that we know she can play,” then-general manager Tamika Catchings said at the end of last season. She added that the Fever hoped to “build with and around” McCowan and guard Kelsey Mitchell.

Dunn, as evidenced by this trade, does not share those feelings about McCowan. She still placed a high value on the 25-year-old, based on the high number of picks the Fever acquired in the deal. But she wouldn’t have made this move if she thought McCowan was worth building around.

It would have been hard to fault Dunn either way. McCowan’s stats speak for themselves, and the Fever were much better with her on the floor. But her abilities weren’t guiding Indiana to wins.

“When you’re last, and you’ve been last, you evaluate things,” Dunn explained of the deal. “We’re not going to stay the same,” she added while illustrating that this deal sends a message: the Fever franchise does not find their recent results acceptable.

On top of the poor record, McCowan’s slower-paced style didn’t always mesh with the speed of Mitchell and the rest of the Fever roster. Moving on from the Mississippi State product could allow the red and blue to operate with more pace, and Dunn confirmed that the team’s motivation to play more up-tempo was a factor in the deal.

“We’re going to defend, we’re going to run, we’re going to rebound and we’re going to hit 3-point shots,” Dunn said when introduced to the media in Gainbridge Fieldhouse. She has a clear vision for her team, and moving on from the 2019 third overall selection will make it easier to play that style.

And the easiest way for Dunn to get more players that fit said vision is in the WNBA Draft. The last few seasons of Fever basketball were largely unsuccessful, and Dunn is leaning hard into the draft to make those results a thing of the past. Dealing McCowan increases the franchise’s draft assets over the next two offseasons, which will make an attempted rebuild smoother and amplify the chance of success for the next era of Fever basketball.

The Indiana Fever are thinking big picture, and trading away McCowan for draft compensation is a big-picture move. In the short term, Indiana’s center rotation will suffer tremendously — the recently signed Alaina Coates may be the leading candidate to start at center as of now, though the draft or a philosophy shift could change that.

Indiana is changing rapidly in the Lin Dunn era, and sending away one of the team’s top players from recent seasons suggests that anything is on the table. McCowan will be tasked with fitting into a young, growing Dallas team, and in the meantime, Indiana will do everything it can to build through the draft. The Lin Dunn era has taken off.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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