The past four seasons, the Connecticut Sun were led by a core group of five players: Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen.
The five led the Sun to the WNBA finals last year for the first time since 2005, ultimately losing to Washington 3-2.
“We loved that core group building together and growing together,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said last week. “It was my philosophy and my hope that the organization would allow me to do that when I got hired four years ago. Watching that all come together was really exciting. It’s been a great run.”
But this season, the Sun will have a new look.
Gone are Williams and Stricklen, who will be playing in Atlanta in 2020. Arriving is DeWanna Bonner, arguably the most sought-after free agent of 2020.
“Huge addition in terms of DeWanna Bonner, maybe the first time in WNBA history that Connecticut was able to land the most coveted free agent of that particular offseason,” Miller said.
The forward, who spent her first 10 seasons with the Phoenix Mercury, averaged 17.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.7 steals a game last year. Bonner signed with the Sun on Feb. 11.
“She’s playing the best basketball of her career,” Miller said. “One of the most versatile and dynamic players in the league.”
The quest for Bonner began with a trade the day before. Connecticut traded Morgan Tuck and its 11th overall pick in the upcoming draft to Seattle for the seventh pick. The Sun then sent the seventh pick and 10th pick, along with a 2021 first-round pick, to Phoenix for the rights to Bonner.
Also on Feb. 10, the Sun re-signed Jones to a multi-year deal. Jones led the Sun in points (14.3) rebounds (9.7) and blocks (2.0) per game last year. In the playoffs, Jones averaged 17.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game.
“She’s one of the superstars in the league and really a central piece of our identity and how we want to continue to play.”
On Feb. 19, the Sun acquired Briann January from Phoenix in a three-team deal. Along with January, the Sun received a second-round 2021 draft pick in the deal. Meanwhile, Connecticut shipped Williams to Atlanta.
“While disappointing to lose Courtney and not have the opportunity to re-sign her, and ultimately traded her, I’m excited about Briann January’s presence in our locker room and the championship experience that she brings to the team,” Miller said.
January averaged 6.5 points and 3.3 assists with Phoenix last season.
Finally, the Sun traded their 2021 second-round pick to Seattle for UConn grad Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis on Feb. 24, a move made to fill in the gap left when Stricklen signed with Atlanta on Feb. 16.
“We lost some shooting with the inability to re-sign Shekinna Stricklen because of the salary cap,” Miller said. “We’re really, really happy to bring a shooter back into the fold. KML is regarded as one of the best shooters in the league. She continues to bring that spacing that I so covet at the offensive end so the driving lanes are bigger for other players.”
Last year, Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 5.5 points and shot 34.1 percent from behind the arc.
The Sun also resigned Natisha Hiedeman and Bria Holmes in February.
Meanwhile, Rachel Banham and Layshia Clarendon departed, with Banham signing with Minnesota and Clarendon with New York. Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, Brionna Jones and Theresa Plaisance all have time left on their contracts.
Additionally, the Sun signed Jazmon Gwathmey, Valériane Ayayi Vukosavljevi, Jacki Gemelos and Megan Huff to training camp contracts.
“I’m really excited about the roster,” Miller said. “It think it looks really strong on paper. But paper doesn’t win games.”
As a result, Miller expects some growing pains.
“There’s going to be some bumps here early as we put our new pieces all together and work for that chemistry that we had achieved the last couple years,” Miller said. “The only way you can work that out is getting on the practice floor and really get to work with them.”
Currently, no changes have been made to the WNBA schedule. The draft will be held remotely and broadcast live on ESPN on April 17.
Less certain is the start of the season. Training camp is set to begin on April 26, which seems in doubt now after President Donald Trump announced the extension of social distancing guidelines until April 30.
The Sun’s season opener is supposed to be May 16 at home against New York, a day after the league’s scheduled opening day.
“Obviously, it’s unprecedented times,” Miller said. “It’s a fluid situation. The WNBA is doing a fantastic job looking at contingency plans. My word for our team is we have to stay nimble. We’ve got to be flexible and we’ll be ready when we get that call.”