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Basketball

What’s Next For the Wings in an Offseason of Change?

Dallas looks very different than it did a year ago. Here's what it means, and what's left to do.
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Diamond DeShields is one of several new faces who will suit up for Dallas next season. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With WNBA free agency almost two weeks old, the Wings’ roster is taking shape. After years of indecision, there now appears to be a plan for a squad looking to win its second playoff game in 15 seasons—and more.

Onto the team by way of trade come Natasha Howard and Crystal Dangerfield, both big swings, along with Diamond DeShields. Dallas also brought back Teaira McCowan on the first day of free agency, giving her a three-year extension with a big raise. Veteran big Kalani Brown was signed to a training camp deal. 

Allisha Gray, Kayla Thornton, Tyasha Harris, and Marina Mabrey have all been traded, and free agent Isabelle Harrison signed with Chicago. After sitting out last season, Bella Alarie announced her retirement

If these feel like radical changes, it’s because they are. Dallas has overhauled its roster. 

Gray and Mabrey are the two most significant departures. The Wings honored Gray’s trade request, and although they received a couple of draft picks in return, they should have gotten more in exchange for the woman who was their second-best player in 2022. But then they went out and acquired DeShields, a player who is similar to Gray. DeShields averaged about 13 points a game last season and can defend. Plus, she is on an expiring contract, so if she doesn’t pan out, Dallas can reclaim valuable cap space. If the Wings like what they see, DeShields will probably get an extension.

As for Mabrey, there were always questions about her long-term fit. Her ball handling was adequate but not spectacular, and she was a shoot-first guard whose accuracy was inconsistent. That didn’t bode well for a team hoping to become more steady on offense. When Dallas re-signed McCowan, and after Howard was acquired, it became clear that Mabrey’s days in Dallas were numbered.

And consider this: Dallas now has three great offensive pieces in Howard, McCowan, and Arike Ogunbowale. Given her ability to score at every level, a healthy Satou Sabally also needs touches. DeShields can attack the rim. So Mabrey went from the borderline second-best scoring option to as low as sixth. Moving her to Chicago will be best for everyone, even if it leaves the Wings’ attack a hair less dynamic. 

The roster moves seem to suggest a change in philosophy. The Aces stormed to the WNBA title last season while making the most threes and attempting the most shots from deep in the league. Dallas was fifth in both.

Now the Wings figure to be a difficult team to defend at the rim and in the paint. In addition to having McCowan and Howard down low, DeShields and Ogunbowale are proficient at getting to the basket. On nights when that isn’t working, opponents will still have to deal with the outside shooting of Ogunbowale, Sabally, and Awak Kuier. 

Which isn’t to say the new-look Wings are without vulnerabilities. On nights where the rim is well guarded, they probably lack the outside shooting they need to dependably break it down. A lot will depend on Ogunbowale. She is now the only backcourt player who can consistently create her own shot, and if she goes cold in a game and the ancillary shooters can’t raise their games to pick up the slack, the script for shutting down Dallas’ attack is simple.

And while these moves make the Wings a stronger defensive team, they’re still shaky on the perimeter. Ogunbowale always puts forth strong effort, but defense isn’t her strong suit. Meanwhile, the 5-foot-5 Dangerfield lacks the length to ever be a lockdown threat. Veronica Burton is on the other end of the spectrum; defense is her calling card, but she needs to up her offensive and playmaking output to stay on the floor. There is where the loss of  Gray, arguably the most complete player on last season’s team, will sting most. No one on the roster can approximate her impact as a two-way guard, and opponents know it, too. Expect to see teams throw as much as possible at the Wings’ perimeter defense until they prove they can hold their own away from the basket.

Once again, the draft, set for April 10, will loom large for the Wings. They have the third and fifth picks in the first round after the deals with Atlanta and Chicago, and this is one of the better recent groups of prospects. The talent at the top end is better than 2021, when Dallas had the first two picks, and the depth past those elite players is there, too. So two top-six picks should theoretically yield a strong crop. 

But the draft has never been as fruitful as it should be for this team. Since 2017, Dallas has selected 12 players in the first round, including six in the top five. Only four of those dozen players are still with the team, and with Gray having moved on, only Ogunbowale can be considered an unmitigated success. Sabally has shown potential but needs to stay on the court and deliver consistently on it. The jury is still out on Burton, who is entering her second season. This has not been a good drafting team, plain and simple.

With the third selection, mock drafts have Dallas taking Haley Jones, a 6-foot-1 guard from Stanford who is averaging 13.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists, or Diamond Miller, a 6-foot-3 guard from Maryland who is averaging 19.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. A handful of useful players should be available with the fifth pick. There is a lot to like in this class, but the Wings have to get this draft right. And whether it’s through the draft or another offseason trade, they still could use another shooter (one with fewer highs than Mabrey, but who also needs the ball less). A project backup center would also be nice, someone who most likely would take Charli Collier’s place short term as she learns from Brown and McCowan. 

The good news for Wings fans is that the front office has a direction, a style of play, and by extension, a style of player it is targeting. That’s progress after so many up-and-down seasons. Now it has to execute that plan. 

Author

Sam Hale
Sam Hale covers the Wings and FC Dallas for StrongSide. His relationship with Everton FC is forever "it's complicated." He's…
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