BREAKING: Three-time champion Natasha Howard headed to New York Liberty

Former Seattle All-Star Natasha Howard is coming to the New York Liberty in exchange for the top overall pick.

Following the signing of Betnijah Laney, New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb played coy when asked if the team was finished making moves. He gave a more concrete answer on Wednesday afternoon.

The Liberty announced on Wednesday afternoon that they have acquired Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb from the Seattle Storm in a three-team deal. Howard is a three-time WNBA champion and the 2019 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.

“We have the privilege of welcoming multiple-time WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb to Brooklyn,” Kolb said in a team statement. “The magnitude of Natasha choosing to be in New York cannot be overstated. 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 Walt Hopkins’ system.”

New York bids farewell to the top pick in April’s draft, which went to Seattle, as well as former All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 first-round pick Megan Walker, who were each dealt to the Phoenix Mercury. The Liberty also sent over a 2022 first-round choice (acquired from Phoenix) to Seattle. They get back the sixth overall pick in 2021 from the Mercury, who also get the rights to Stephanie Talbot from New York. Talbot opted out of the 2020 season after coming over in a draft day trade with Minnesota.

Howard, 29, played a major role in three of the last four WNBA championships with the Storm, who took home the most recent title from the Bradenton bubble last fall. She also captured the 2017 championship with the Minnesota Lynx, working alongside then-Minnesota assistant Walt Hopkins, now the head coach of the Liberty.

After winning the Most Improved Player Award in 2018, Howard earned All-WNBA First Team honors in the following year and also picked up the Defensive Player of the Year title. She has averaged 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in her WNBA career, which began as the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft with Indiana.

“I am very excited to be a part of the New York Liberty organization,” said Howard in a statement. “I’m also excited to meet my new teammates and the fans. I’m so pumped about the 2021 season.”

Howard was previously cored by the Storm, giving the team exclusive free agency rights, but now heads to New York as part of a sign-and-trade.

Also joining the Liberty is sharpshooter Sami Whitcomb. At 32, she is now the oldest member on the Liberty roster. Whitcomb has earned numerous accolades in Australia’s WNBL and was part of the Storm’s last two championship treks. Though born in California, Whitcomb holds Australian citizenship and has earned numerous accolades at the WNBL level. She led Seattle reserves with 8.1 points per game off the bench last season and sank all 22 of her free throw attempts.

“Sami Whitcomb will be an instant fan favorite, not only for her elite shot-making ability, but also for her tenacity and drive,” Kolb said. “A two-time champion in her own right, Sami knows what it takes to win in this league, and is exactly the kind of tough, talented, culture-first player we covet in New York.”

In the process, the Liberty will part ways with Nurse and Walker, each of whom partook in the Liberty’s 22-game endeavor in Florida last year. Nurse was one of the so-called “baby vets” on a New York squad that dressed seven rookies last season, alongside Amanda Zahui B. and Kiah Stokes. Nurse tallied 11.6 points per game last season after appearing in her first All-Star game in 2019. One of the aforementioned rookies was Walker, a fellow University of Connecticut alumna who was chosen ninth in last year’s draft. After missing the first four games due to a positive test for COVID-19, Walker partook in 18 games in the bubble, averaging 3.3 points.

“I would like to thank Kia Nurse and Megan Walker for their contributions to our organization,” added Kolb. “The unfortunate part of transactions such as these is that you have to say goodbye to people who have contributed to the team in so many ways. Kia shone particularly brightly in New York, becoming an All-Star in just her second season in the league. Megan’s rookie season was undoubtedly stunted by a preseason COVID diagnosis, but I have no doubt that she will return to top form in the coming years, and that both players will continue to flourish in Phoenix.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags