The Liberty Traded The First Overall Pick In The 2021 Draft To Seattle For Natasha Howard

After landing the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft for the second straight year, the book on the New York Liberty heading into the offseason was that they would add another promising young player to line up next to Sabrina Ionescu and form a young one-two punch for many years in Brooklyn. But rather than do all that, the Liberty have reportedly executed a deal to ship the No. 1 pick out for 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard.

The news was first reported by Rachel Galligan of Winsidr and Bet MGM and is part of a much larger set of transactions.

As part of the trade, the 29-year-old Howard will sign a four-year contract with New York starting just below the “super-maximum” amount.

In a press release, the Liberty announced the full set of trades: New York acquired the No. 6 pick in 2021 and a first-round pick in 2022 from the Phoenix Mercury by sending out All-Star guard Kia Nurse and second-year forward Megan Walker. The Liberty then flipped that 2022 first-round pick along with the No. 1 overall pick this year and New York’s own second-rounder in 2022 for Howard.

Subsequently, Seattle traded this year’s top overall pick to acquire stretch forward Katie Lou Samuelson, second-year wing Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan (from the Minnesota Lynx) and 2022 second-round picks from both Dallas and New York.

“The magnitude of Natasha choosing to be in New York cannot be overstated,” said Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb in a statement. “She is an All-WNBA talent who has worked for and earned everything that she has achieved, who has contributed to championship runs on multiple teams, and who will fit seamlessly into (head coach) Walt Hopkins’ system.”

This move comes after the Liberty signed reigning WNBA Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney to a multiyear contract in another move that will likely bolster the Liberty’s ninth-ranked defense. Adding Howard shores up the interior and gives New York another veteran as they look to make a playoff push in 2021, with Ionescu fully healed from an ankle injury that cost her most of her rookie season. New York still holds the No. 17, No. 25 and No. 29 picks in the 2021 draft and has 14 players currently on roster. They must get down to 12 by the start of the season in May.

The trade sends ripple effects to nearly every corner of the league. Dallas now holds three picks in the top five including the No. 1 overall selection, while Phoenix has a glut of guards behind Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. The Storm could have used the top pick to potentially spur a dynasty forward, but instead opted to add depth.

With all that said, the moves are likely not finished as WNBA free agency moves forward toward April’s draft.