Frustrated with a talented yet underachieving team that appeared headed nowhere this season, Detroit Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer pulled off a bold move over the weekend, trading for all-star guard Katie Smith.
The trade sent shock waves throughout the WNBA but really registered with the Shock's Eastern Conference rivals. Take, for instance, Washington Mystics General Manager Linda Hargrove and Coach Richie Adubato, who were with their team yesterday as it prepared for tonight's game against the struggling Charlotte Sting (3-20).
Detroit (10-12) and Washington (12-12) are part of a tightly packed East that also includes second-place Indiana (14-9) and third-place New York (12-11).
Because first-place Connecticut (18-6) has all but wrapped up the East, those four teams will be duking it out for three playoff spots. The Mystics have 10 games remaining, with six of those coming against Detroit, Indiana and New York.
The Sting made its own major move yesterday, sending four-time all-star Dawn Staley to Houston. Staley, a two-time NCAA player of the year at Virginia, is 35 and the head coach at Temple University. This gives her a shot at her first WNBA title before she ends her playing career.
Hargrove noted that Smith gives Detroit, which trails the Mystics by one game in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, five all-stars.
"When I first heard about it, I felt sick," Hargrove said. "I thought they might have had the most talented team before. Now, they are loaded."
Smith, 31, is a five-time all-star and one of the game's best pure shooters. Her addition gives Detroit the kind of star power found only in Los Angeles, where the Sparks have Lisa Leslie and Chamique Holdsclaw.
"You take Smith, who is as pure a scorer as you are going to find in the game, and you put her with Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, [Deanna] Nolan and [Cheryl] Ford and then you also have [Plenette] Pierson and [Kara] Braxton -- man, that gives you some serious headaches as an opponent," Adubato said. "It really puts pressure on us because it now becomes a real race for the playoffs."
One of the most perplexing parts of the trade was that Detroit didn't appear to give up much to land Smith, who averaged 13.8 points and 2.4 rebounds for the Lynx after recovering from offseason knee surgery. For its franchise player and a second-round draft pick, Minnesota acquired a first-round pick in 2006, second-year guard Chandi Jones and forward Stacey Thomas.
"Getting Smith was a major move for Detroit," guard Alana Beard said. "She's a great player. But we can't get caught up worrying about what other teams are doing. We have to win games. That's it."