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Sun's trade of Charles was forced by a diva

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published April 15. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 15. 2014 9:24AM

Mohegan - Among the many ways to say goodbye to Tina Charles: adios, au revoir, arrivederci, auf wiedersehen, do svidaniya …

But I prefer a more direct approach.

Yo, Tina: Don't let the doorknob leave a lasting impression.

And let me just remind Sun fans who might be wringing their hands today: They finished 10-24 with Ms. Diva last season. As Branch Rickey once told Ralph Kiner: "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."

And the Sun didn't do so badly, with Alyssa Thomas and Kelsey Bone in return. Add to that the return of Katie Douglas, a healthy Allie Hightower, No. 1 pick Chiney Ogwumike ... and upon further review, the Sun might be a better team in 2014. And certainly beyond (don't discount injured Chelsea Gray). At least the Sun of 2014 will be a collection of players who want to be here.

Charles' decision to leave is more residual effect of Mike Thibault's dismissal as head coach. I get that Charles was chafed because Thibault's firing came without her input. I get that it was a hard summer of 2013 here. Although I doubt her paychecks bounced.

Here is what else I know: Few, if any other players in the history of the franchise, were ever treated better than Tina Charles. She got whatever she asked for, largesse that went beyond basketball, including (but not limited to) generous donations to Charles' charitable endeavors. There are several other examples.

Sun coach Anne Donovan and vice president Chris Sienko visited Charles in Europe this winter. They were aware Charles wasn't happy here last season. They were aware of rumblings that Charles thought of not returning. And yet Donovan and Sienko left Europe believing they'd mended the relationship. Productive, cordial meetings and dinners. Charles reportedly told them all she wants to do is win and move forward here. She reportedly told them to "get a wing player" to help spread the floor and give Charles more room to operate.

They got Douglas. They knew Ogwumike was coming to help Charles with rebounding duties. She didn't give Sun management any reason to think she wasn't coming. And then after all that was done for her, she pulled a diva act and said she'd rather not play at all than play at Connecticut.

Is this professional basketball or the fifth grade?

Hard to say as the diva-ization of the WNBA continues.

"The rumors were out there," Donovan said. "But we kept telling people they weren't true. There were so many opportunities for Tina or her agent to tell us differently. We had so many interactions with Tina in the offseason. When this came down the pike as late as it did, we were all pretty blindsided."

Charles was a restricted free agent, meaning Connecticut held her rights. The Sun could have stayed stubborn and made Charles sit the whole summer. Instead, they made about the best trade they could under the circumstances. I don't know if Donovan can reach Bone. But if she can, the Sun have a monster in the post. They also have dynamic rebounders in Ogwumike and Thomas. They are younger, more athletic and far less surly.

I asked Charles in the middle of last summer whether she might not show up to the Sun this year. She never answered the question, leading to speculation. It was during the conversation, though, that Charles said something else that should make Connecticut fans think about how much they're actually going to miss her.

Charles hosted a get-together at one of Mohegan Sun's establishments the night before the All-Star game, plunking down the credit card and thus allowing everyone a group exhale, some laughs and a few social sparklers.

Charles was asked why the largesse and said, "because this is my city."

Your city, Tina?

This is how you treat "your city?"

You can't finish the last year on your contract?

In "your city?"

UConn coach Geno Auriemma: "When these guys get away (from college), stuff happens. When you play in college, you play because you love basketball. When you leave college you play because you get paid to play. When you get paid to play, you make decisions based on things sometimes other than just playing basketball, like it is in college. … You don't go to UConn, stay two years and say, 'I'd rather live somewhere else.' I'm not privy to all the reasons why Tina would rather in be in New York than Connecticut. I just attribute it to part of the business part of basketball."

Happy trails, Tina. Doesn't sound like they're weeping here.

"We had poor leadership, poor chemistry and frankly, our work ethic was not where it needed to be," Donovan said, alluding to last season. "So I feel very positive. People who think we are just rebuilding and settling to rebuild, we're going to be very competitive. Katie Douglas is going to make sure we are not rebuilding. She didn't come to Connecticut to rebuild."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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