June 2, 2021 

Shyla Heal traded for Dana Evans and picks, cut

Stephanie Watts and Lexie Brown also cut in whirlwind afternoon, Brown to be re-signed later

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After one trade, three activations, and four releases between Chicago and Dallas, an incredible eight players have had their roster situations changed today.

Dana Evans was traded this afternoon from the Wings to the Sky in exchange for the rights to a 2022 first-round pick swap, Chicago’s ‘22 third-round pick, and rookie point guard Shyla Heal. Heal was immediately cut by Dallas, who needed to clear two roster spots today after activating wing Allisha Gray and big Satou Sabally. Chicago themselves activated center Stefanie Dolson today, briefly putting them at ten healthy players and automatically terminating shooting guard Lexie Brown’s hardship contract. The Sky also released rookie shooting guard Stephanie Watts.

(To quote Jimmy Eat World, “are you dizzy yet?”)

This is an enormous statement by Chicago. The Sky came into the season as a consensus top-three title contender, and as a result, were widely expected to draft a polished point guard in the draft to round out their roster as a backup. Instead, they shocked everyone both by drafting Heal, an Australian teenager and by working tirelessly to bring her stateside as soon as possible. Further complicating matters, they suspended veteran wing Gabby Williams when her season debut was expected to be delayed and traded her to Los Angeles for rookie shooting guard Stephanie Watts.

Heal has, predictably, taken time to adjust to the WNBA. As a 19-year-old, needing development time was more than predictable. But Chicago — more specifically, James Wade — decided to cut bait after she started her career one-for-eight from the field with three assists and ten turnovers. She looked overwhelmed when trying to direct Chicago’s offense, but there’s no reason to think that her long-term outlook has changed much since before the draft.

Watts did not stand out either in her 14 minutes-per-game, but she remains a rookie with all of 84 professional minutes to her name.

The prize here is Evans. The rookie second-round point guard was a unanimous first-round prospect and was expected to be a possible lottery pick. Instead, the story of the night was her slide to No. 13 and becoming the fifth point guard off the board.

There’s no WNBA numbers of consequence for Evans — she’s played just 24 minutes this year in a crowded and discordant Dallas backcourt. Her collegiate resumé ought to speak for itself, including back-to-back All-American and ACC Player of the Year selections, and she demonstrated all-around scoring and facilitating prowess to go along with good weakside and solid point-of-attack defense at Louisville.

To nobody’s surprise, Dallas cleared its first roster spot this morning by waiving center Kristine Anigwe. The second spot, cleared by waiving Heal, was more unanticipated. Shooting guard Chelsea Dungee, the No. 5 overall pick in the ‘21 draft, has played just 19 minutes and appeared to be passed on the depth chart by Evans. Veteran point guard Moriah Jefferson is on a protected contract, despite not flashing capable play since her days in San Antonio four years ago, making her contract both untradable and tough to cut. Bella Alarie, last year’s No. 5 pick, has been shoehorned into a traditional center role and played just 34 minutes this year.

Trading Evans now gives Dungee about nine minutes per game, all else static.

It’s hard to see this as anything but an unmitigated disaster for Chicago. The Sky just traded for the No. 13 while ridding themselves of the No. 8 and 10 picks.

The team’s missing two of its three best players by injury, and though that’s far and away from the prime culprit for its active five-game losing streak, the roster wasn’t built to hedge against this possibility. Heal being a development project means that Courtney Vandersloot has been playing a career-high 32.6 minutes per game, and the current perimeter rotation has been letting teams assault Chicago’s weakside defense at will. Quigley’s imminent return (more on that later) will help that problem, as will Brown when the Sky can sign her for the rest of the season on June 13 (more on that later too), but until then they have to live with this painful reality.

It’s important to note that Wade, Chicago’s general manager, is also its head coach. And the team doesn’t have an assistant GM. Whatever scouting went into the drafting of Heal and not leaving her abroad, whatever went into trading for Watts, whatever decisions were made to assemble this guard room without Brown, all fall squarely on him. And now Heal can’t spend developmental years overseas while still guaranteed a future WNBA contract.

The release of Watts in particular hints towards Quigley’s availability. WNBA teams must carry at least 11 players on their rosters, but Chicago’s currently stands at ten. With Quigley and Candace Parker still hurt, the Sky qualify for a hardship exemption both by having two players hurt and by being under ten available for gameday. Parker isn’t expected back for a little while longer, but Quigley is probable for Thursday’s game against Phoenix, and the Sky not yet signing a hardship player could indicate that Quigley may be able to play sooner rather than later.

The team would still want to sign a hardship player, though. With Brown being cut today and Chicago already being up against the salary cap, that player’s hardship contract is going to have to be quite cheap. Come Sunday, June 13, however, a rest-of-season contract will be low enough to re-sign Brown and alleviate that problem.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/her) covers the Seattle Storm and college basketball for The Next, while also writing for The Chronicle, Duke's independent student paper

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