Chicago Sky star and restricted free agent Elena Delle Donne will likely agree to terms of a sign-and-trade deal with the Washington Mystics when the deal the teams reached Monday is made official on Wednesday.
The move would bring the 6-foot-5 forward and Delaware native closer to home. Since she was drafted as the No. 2 overall pick by the Sky in 2013, Delle Donne has split her time between Chicago and Delaware.
Earlier Monday, Sky owner Michael Alter confirmed to The New York Times that a deal was completed for Delle Donne’s trade, but the WNBA star’s agent, Erin Kane, said the Times report was premature. Delle Donne and Kane have not yet seen the contract or signed off on it. However, Delle Donne is expected to follow through on the trade Wednesday. Kane said that is the first the deal can be completed because the Sky have to sign Delle Donne before completing a trade to the Mystics.
In an interview Friday, Kane spoke about some of the factors that went into the free-agency process for Delle Donne and why a move away from Chicago seemed imminent.
“When the salaries are as different as they are from the NBA, certain factors are weighted differently,” Kane said. “Elena has always been a player who plays for enjoyment of the game. There are other considerations for her, and they have to do with her family — her sister in particular, who cannot travel — and they have to do with Elena’s health.”
Delle Donne has battled Lyme disease since 2008, and flare-ups have caused her to miss games at both the professional and college levels. Last week, Delle Donne had to return to the United States from China, where she had signed with Shanxi of the Chinese Basketball league for the team’s playoff run, because of a flare-up.
A sign-and-trade deal is negotiated between the teams, not by an agent or player, and the league’s collective bargaining agreement is very restrictive in terms of max deals for players. That meant Delle Donne and Kane had little to do in terms of pushing negotiations forward; the years for the contract were the only part they played a role in. The CBA is up for renegotiation in three years, so that, Kane said last week, would likely play a role in how the contract was structured.
Delle Donne was considering sitting out the 2017 season if a suitable contract wasn’t reached. However, that would have a major impact beyond her WNBA salary and a lack of time on the court.
“Their equipment contracts will be prorated if they’re not playing,” Kane said, “and additionally, there’s the PR hit.”
Delle Donne averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds per game in her third WNBA season. The former WNBA MVP and three-time All-Star will join a Mystics team that finished 13-21 in 2016 after reaching the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
First-year Sky coach and general manager Amber Stocks, who came to the team after leaving an assistant-coaching role with Los Angeles, faces a challenge in filling Delle Donne’s spot on the roster. Chicago made its semifinal run with Delle Donne sidelined and still has solid talent in Courtney Vandersloot and Cappie Pondexter, who combined for 25.6 points per game in the postseason.
Delle Donne’s decision bucks the trend of WNBA stars traditionally staying with the teams that draft them. Tamika Catchings, for example, remained with Indiana throughout her 14-year career. Diana Taurasi has spent the duration of her career with Phoenix, although she sat out a season at the request of the Russian Premier League team she played for, UMMC Ekaterinburg. Another member of that team, Brittney Griner, is a restricted free agent this season but is unlikely to move elsewhere. Griner has been with the Mercury since 2013, when she was drafted No. 1 overall by Phoenix, one spot ahead of Delle Donne.