June 25, 2022
Sources: Seattle Storm to sign Tina Charles
The future Hall of Famer joins Ezi Magbegor and Mercedes Russell in what could be the most overpowering center rotation this side of Uncasville
The Storm have had some problems at center all season long. So they fixed them the same way anyone else would: by signing a future Hall of Famer in Tina Charles.
Multiple league sources tell The Next that Seattle plans to sign Charles. The 2012 WNBA MVP and nine-time All-WNBA selection started 16 games for Phoenix this season, playing 33.1 minutes per game and averaging 17.3 points on 53.0% true shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.4 turnovers while using 25.9% of the team’s possessions.
The Mercury agreed to a “contract divorce” — the official WNBA terminology for a buyout — today, making Charles a free agent. Buyouts go into effect only if a player clears waivers. If Charles is not claimed on waivers, her Phoenix salary will be decreased to $56,673, a league source tells The Next. This number effectively means Phoenix would pay Charles through June 27, when she would clear waivers.
The Storm have to wait 48 hours for her to clear waivers so they can sign her for less than the roughly $54,000 owed on the remainder of her contract with Phoenix, and significantly lower than the full $108,000 cap hit that would come with her if she is claimed off waivers.
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Charles had signed this past winter with a Phoenix squad fresh off a WNBA Finals appearance on a one-year deal, after finishing fifth in MVP voting last season with the Washington Mystics. In Washington, she nearly set a career high in true shooting while running the eighth-highest usage rate in league history, per Across The Timeline.
Charles had a slow start to this season but appeared to find her stride as of late. The 12-year veteran has scored at least 26 points in three of her past four games, shooting 53.4% from the field and 45.5% from three. Despite her usage rate being the 10th-highest in the league, it’s still her second-lowest mark since her rookie year, while her true shooting percentage is the fourth-best of her career.
Charles slots right into Seattle’s frontcourt rotation, likely ahead of veteran Jantel Lavender and behind third-year Ezi Magbegor. Magbegor has been a revelation in her 30 minutes per game, ranking in the top quintile in effective field goal percentage, per Her Hoop Stats, and establishing herself as a top-tier contributor on both ends. Given her significant defensive advantage over Charles and the Storm’s identity as a defensive juggernaut, it would be a major disruption to the team’s strengths to make Charles a starter at Magbegor’s expense.
Seattle’s bench, on the other hand, has a Charles-sized opening. Lineups without Magbegor have struggled monstrously, with the Storm’s offensive rating dropping from 103.8 to 90.9 when she sits, per PBP Stats — the equivalent of sliding from the W’s second-ranked offense to its worst, per Her Hoop Stats. On the other hand, Charles has at times been a one-woman offense. She also excels at finding shooters out of post touches, and the team’s bench features two or three significant spot-up threats. Problems may emerge when defensive stalwart center Mercedes Russell returns, but too much talent is always a good problem to have.
The on-court fit is perfect. The off-court fit is where things are a little more surprising for the Storm; team CEO/president and former general manager Alisha Valavanis and current general manager Talisha Rhea have long prioritized locker room chemistry on the roster. It’s a factor that they take into account on most every move and that has helped lead to the kind of love and support that flows between the team and the greater Seattle community. And it stands in stark contrast to how Phoenix has operated and the culture it’s fostered over the years.
Multiple times this year, Mystics players have talked about improvement in the locker room culture since last year, when Charles was on the roster. Tension between them and Charles was apparent when the Mercury visited Washington this month. The Storm’s long-standing infrastructure of positive vibes and accountability should alleviate concerns of this becoming a problem in Seattle, especially as Charles joins specifically to spend the next three months pushing for her first WNBA title. But it’s a situation worth monitoring.
This isn’t the first time Charles has taken a below-market-rate salary to go for a title. She’d signed with both the Mercury and the Mystics on discounts to join winning teams, but those plans were sabotaged by forces beyond her control. The COVID-19 pandemic and Charles’ resulting medical exemption prevented her and Washington stars Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud from playing together after Charles was traded there in 2020, then Delle Donne’s back issues prevented a full-strength Mystics when Charles re-signed in 2021. This year, Phoenix’s best player, Brittney Griner, is wrongfully detained in Russia, and longtime superstar Diana Taurasi has regressed into one of the least valuable players in the league.
This story has been updated with additional information on Charles’ buyout terms with Phoenix and the salary cap implications for Seattle.