Whalen trade leaves Lynx, Sun thriving

The 2010 deal brought Lindsay Whalen home and allowed her former team to rebuild into a contender.

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Connecticut Sun's Danielle McCray, left, is pressured by Minnesota Lynx' Lindsay Whalen during the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Uncasville, Conn., Friday, June 1, 2012.

Photo: Jessica Hill, Associated Press

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Connecticut and the Lynx are where they are today -- leading their respective conferences -- in large part because of a trade they made more than two years ago.

On Jan. 12, 2010, the Lynx swapped their No. 1 pick in that year's WNBA draft and point guard Renee Montgomery, one year out of college, to the Sun for the No. 2 pick and Lindsay Whalen, a former Gophers star and six-year league veteran.

With those lottery picks, Connecticut took 6-4 center Tina Charles of UConn first overall, the Lynx took Virginia guard Monica Wright second.

Critics can assess that trade for themselves on Saturday night at Target Center when the Sun, at 11-4 the East's best team, plays the West-leading Lynx (13-3). This is their second and final regular-season meeting. Both teams have dropped some games lately, but overall their seasons have gone well. The Lynx won their first 10 games, setting a league record; the Sun started 6-1.

Whalen is averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 assists as the Lynx point guard and making 48.9 percent of her shots -- the second-best percentage in her career.

She has carried the offense on some nights and also had a last-second basket to beat Washington.

Cheryl Reeve became the Lynx coach a month before the Whalen trade.

"It was six years in the making for Roger," Reeve said of Roger Griffith, the team's executive vice president. "So Roger went through a lot more. For me, it was a no-brainer. Watching video of the Minnesota Lynx coming into this thing, it was clear ... someone that could control the team was something that these guys needed."

Wright, a backup guard, might be the most improved Lynx player this season. She has nearly doubled her scoring average to 9.8 points and is shooting 50.5 percent. Wright has earned the coaches' confidence.

The best way to judge any trade, Reeve said, is time: "One more year would really tell that this is a trade that was really good for both franchises."

Last year, the Lynx went 27-7 in the regular season and 7-1 in the playoffs en route to their first WNBA title. The Sun, meanwhile, was 21-13 and tied for first in the East. Neither team made the playoffs in 2010, the year of the trade.

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault is just as positive about the trade.

"I feel good about it," he said. "Lindsay got to go home and competed for a championship. We got younger, deeper and set ourselves up to be competitive for quite a while."

Charles, at 23, is averaging 18.1 points and 11.5 rebounds.

"[She] is one of the up-and-coming stars," Thibault said. "A consistent rebounder, improving offensively all the time."

Charles, like Whalen, was a first-team All-WNBA selection last season and is a member of the U.S. team for the London Olympics.

She already holds league records for double-doubles (23) and rebounds (398) in a season.

Montgomery averages 12.6 points and 2.3 assists as a backup point guard. She was a starter for the Sun her first two seasons, but her role has changed.

"We need an energy person off the bench who can score and lift the team offensively," Thibault said.

Thibault said he never wanted to trade Whalen, who was on Sun teams that made the WNBA Finals in 2005 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2006.

The reality was, he said, that the Sun "would not go much farther with the team we had if we kept Lindsay. She needed better players surrounding her."

"The fact [the Lynx] have had a little more success is not a surprise when you factor in the age difference," Thibault said, referring to Whalen, who turned 30 in May. "We hope to be on track to match what they did."

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