Elena Delle Donne is headed to the Washington Mystics, according to the New York Times' Howard Megdal. The team confirmed the news two days later.
A trade between the Chicago Sky and Mystics sent the 2015 MVP to D.C. in exchange for All-Star center Stefanie Dolson, last year's No. 7 pick Kahleah Copper, and the No. 2 pick in the 2017 Draft. It's a steep price to pay, but it's for one of the league's best all-around players.
"Clearly, this is one of the biggest moves in the history of this organization,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said in a press release.
Delle Donne's move closer to her home in Delaware comes as no real shock, as rumors have leaked over the past few months that she was unhappy in Chicago. She was a restricted free agent and the Sky would have no reason to trade her unless she wanted out.
Earlier on Monday, Washington sent Bria Hartley and Kia Vaughn to the New York Liberty as part of a three-team trade for the Seattle Storm's No. 6 and No. 18 picks to set up the subsequent blockbuster deal. The Storm received Liberty center Carolyn Swords and Washington's No. 15 pick.
Delle Donne's move is a big one, and one that rarely happens with players of her superstar caliber. The most recent came two seasons ago when her former teammate Sylvia Fowles forced her team's hand as she sat out until she was traded to the Minnesota Lynx.
Delle Donne didn't rule that option out, saying on Megdal's “Locked on Women's Basketball” podcast from two months ago:
"For me, obviously I always want to play. I don't want to sit out. I want to play the game I love and the game I work so hard on. So hopefully that doesn't have to occur in my future."
Luckily for Delle Donne and the league, that's a decision she'll never have to make.
"[The Mystics] have a ton of potential," Delle Donne said on Megdal's podcast. "A lot of young talent. I've always had a great relationship with Coach Thibault. He does a great job with the team and is always adding pieces to the puzzle. He's a coach that wins and he's going to get that team headed in the right direction."
Delle Donne will pair up with Emma Meesseman to form one of the league's toughest frontcourts.
Why this trade makes sense for the Sky
Chicago was forced into a trade it never wanted to make for the second time now. Fowles sat for half of the 2014 season and it looks like Delle Donne would have done the same. Matching any offer sheet she signed as a restricted free agent would have been pointless, and letting her walk for nothing would have been worse.
Instead, the Sky get a fresh start. After letting former head coach Pokey Chatman go, they’ll start with a new coach in Amber Stocks, a first round pick from a year ago in Copper, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft and a rising star in Dolson. The Sky are setting themselves up for the future while remaining competitive.
Why this makes sense for the Mystics
Washington has lacked a superstar talent and Thibault’s been calling for it for years. If Delle Donne wants in, you make room for her to come and that’s exactly what the Mystics did.
The WNBA is run by a collection of stars on top-heavy teams. Fowles demanded her way to Minnesota to team up with Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson. That team has been dominant, making it to five straight WNBA Finals.
The team which brought them down, the L.A. Sparks, is stacked with a two-headed beast in MVPs Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike and supplemented by former All-Stars Alana Beard and Kristi Toliver and Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender. Star talent collects, and Delle Donne hopes to attract more.
The Washington Post’s Gene Wang reported that the Mystics “aren’t done.”
Meesseman and Delle Donne already make this roster a playoff one and Monday morning’s trade gives the team a chance to find an immediate impact player at No. 6 in the draft or deal it for a proven piece.
This is the year Washington breaks out of the .500 range.
Why this makes sense for Delle Donne
A title wasn’t looking likely in Chicago and the personnel has changed a few times surrounding Delle Donne. Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history, isn’t going anywhere, and Delle Donne has spoken of her relationship with him.
But also important to Delle Donne is her life outside of basketball. She’s recently engaged to her long-time girlfriend and looking to start a family.
“Wherever I am, I want it to be a great place for me and Amanda to live and then to also raise children hopefully some day in the future,” Delle Donne said on the podcast. “You have to think about your family and where you want to be living and where you want them to grow up and make some traditions.”
She has family nearby in Delaware, where she played college ball, and with no team there, this was her closest move.
WNBA free agency officially begins on Feb. 1, and playoff teams will surely make moves reflective of this blockbuster one.