Less than a week after the WNBA and its Players Association announced the signing of their new collective bargaining agreement, launching the opening of free agency and the announcement of the 2014 schedule on Monday, the first of the season's major multiteam trades was announced today.
The three-team trade will send guard Matee Ajavon from the Washington Mystics to the Atlanta Dream, together with Washington's second-round pick (18th overall) in the 2014 WNBA Draft as part of the trade.
In exchange, the Dream traded guard Alex Bentley and its third-round pick (31st overall) in this year's draft to the Connecticut Sun, and Connecticut sent guard Kara Lawson to Washington.
The trade reunites the veteran Lawson, a 5-8 guard out of the University of Tennessee, with former Connecticut coach Mike Thibault, who used her there as the nucleus for a Sun team that dominated the Eastern Conference regular-season in 2012. For years a U.S. National Team staple, Lawson, who will be entering her 12th year in the league. She was tapped fifth overall in the 2003 WNBA Draft by the former Detroit Shock, but immediately sent to the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs, where she spent much of her early career, in a draft day trade.
Lawson, a 2007 WNBA All-Star who signed with the Sun as a free agent in 2010, missed much of last season with a knee injury, appearing in just nine games and starting in only six. She averaged 13.8 points and 4.2 assists per game in those games in which she played, and was coming off the best season of her WNBA career, having averaged 15.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game and helping lead the team to the WNBA Finals in 2012.
“I am thrilled to acquire Kara Lawson,” said Thibault. “She brings a level of skill and professionalism that will help push us forward in our quest to become an elite team in the WNBA. Although we made great strides last season, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Kara’s ability to play both guard positions, her perimeter shooting skills, her toughness, and her leadership will all be important to our team.”
In return, Connecticut gains youth in the person of Bentley, in her second year out of Penn State. Bentley has nowhere near the Lawson's numbers, having averaged 8.3 points and 2.8 assists per game for Atlanta last season, coming mainly off the bench. She did show considerable potential, however, particularly during the WNBA Finals, when she upped her scoring output to 9.7 points per game, while still handing out 2.3 assists and grabbing 1.7 steals in the series against the Minnesota Lynx. Bentley also has considerably more tread left on the tires than Lawson.
Moreover, Connecticut was the lottery winner this year and might well use its top pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft to tap high-scoring Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims, while keeping Bentley in reserve.
Atlanta picks up Ajavon, an honorable mention All-American at Rutgers who helped lead the Scarlet Knights to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including one trip to the NCAA Championship game. Ajavon, who will be entering her seventh year in the league, is currently averaging 12.0 points and 4.0 assists for Mersin in the Turkish League. The 5-8 Rutgers product spent the last six seasons with the Mystics after playing her rookie year with the now-defunct Houston Comets. Ajavon, who has missed just one game in her WNBA career, averaged 8.9 points and 2.9 assists while starting 27 of the Mystics' 34 games last season. Her performance dipped when during the Mystics' first-round trip to the playoffs in which she averaged just 4.7 points, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals over those three games against Atlanta. Her best season came in 2011, when she averaged 14.7 points (No. 11 in the league) and 3.1 assists while starting 33 of 34 games for Washington.
"We are thrilled to welcome an experienced and dynamic guard in Matee Ajavon to the Dream as we continue to build this franchise for a championship run," said Dream Executive Vice President and General Manager Angela Taylor in announcing the trade. "Matee brings a defensive intensity, explosive playmaking skills in the open-court, and light-hearted and positive energy that complement our existing core. We thank Alex for all that she contributed to the Atlanta Dream organization and community. We wish her the best."
With the acquisition of Washington's second-round pick, the Dream now owns picks No. 7, 18 and 19 in the 2014 WNBA Draft. Washington currently holds the sixth, 30th and 32nd picks in the 2014 WNBA draft.
Source: Some portions of this article were provided by an Atlanta Dream press release.