Could the Sky tank for Paige Bueckers? How a Dallas pick swap affects their way-too-early draft outlook.

Julia Poe, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Basketball

CHICAGO — After welcoming one of the deepest rookie classes into the league this season, the WNBA is on track for another blockbuster draft next year centered on yet another star guard: Paige Bueckers.

Bueckers drew hype even before her 2020 debut at Connecticut, earning the Gatorade Player of the Year in high school and sharing two national freshman of the year awards (USBWA and WBCA) with Caitlin Clark. Although injuries stalled her college career, Bueckers is all but guaranteed to be selected No. 1 next spring.

Thirteen games into the season, it might be a bit early to start talking about next year’s draft. But as teams begin to slide toward the bottom of the standings, it’s natural to look for a silver lining. Could a poor record in 2024 result in an ideal outcome with a top draft pick in 2025? Or, more simply: Can (or should) a team tank for Bueckers?

Chicago Sky fans shouldn’t get ahead of themselves. The option is out of the question without a blockbuster trade.

The Sky are positioned for a lottery pick, sitting ninth in the league with a 5-9 record just outside of playoff position. But they won’t be the winners in the Bueckers sweepstakes because of the dregs of a 2023 trade to acquire shooting guard Marina Mabrey.

Then-coach and general manager James Wade decimated the Sky’s draft stock when he traded for Mabrey last spring, giving away four picks, including first-rounders in 2023 and 2024. But the trade also included a first-round pick swap with the Dallas Wings in 2025, which will prevent the Sky from landing the No. 1 pick regardless of how they finish this season.


In a pick-swap agreement, the team receiving the swap — the Wings in this situation — will be awarded the higher of the two picks awarded in the draft lottery. If the Sky win the No. 1 pick, that will be transferred to the Wings. But if Dallas lands at No. 1 while the Sky land a lower pick, no swap will occur, meaning the Sky have no path to the top spot in the draft through their natural pick.

There’s another reason why the Sky should not be expected to purposefully tank in the near future — Teresa Weatherspoon.

The Sky hired the first-year coach for many reasons, including the trademark passion that has been a defining trait in establishing a new locker-room culture. And it’s clear from this early stretch that even in a rebuilding season — which the Sky expected after drafting third and seventh this year — that Weatherspoon is not comfortable with losing.

“It’s not like this is fun,” Weatherspoon said after a June 12 loss to the Connecticut Sun. “Nothing fun about losing. Not one thing. Doesn’t matter how much you learned and (are) growing. Ain’t nothing fun about freaking losing. Nothing. Doesn’t matter about the freaking lesson that you learn. There’s still nothing fun about losing.”

The Sky theoretically could move into position for the No. 1 pick by making another trade. But given how forward-dominated next year’s draft class will be — with top talents such as Aneesah Morrow and Kiki Iriafen — the Sky also could comfortably select a quality guard such as Olivia Miles or Georgia Amoore from a lower position in the first round.

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