Aces eager to integrate a second commanding post presence
LAS VEGAS — With the acquisition of All-WNBA center Liz Cambage, expectations for the Las Vegas Aces have changed overnight. Head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer and his team have made peace with that.
“I would suggest that the media is going to put that on us that it now makes us one of the top teams in the league,” Laimbeer told reporters Thursday after practice. “I talked to [the team] this morning and you know what, we’ll accept that. It is what it is.
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“If that’s the end result, if that’s the expectation, we have to live with it. No problem.”
The Aces acquired Cambage from the Dallas Wings in exchange for point guard Moriah Jefferson, forward Isabelle Harrison and the Aces’ 2020 first- and second-round draft picks.
“Honestly, I think all along that we’ve known Las Vegas was on the top of her list,” Aces general manager Dan Padover said. “More than anything, it was just ironing out a trade and working with Dallas on getting something done. We’ve been working with them for four months. Sometimes just all the right pieces have to get put together. We finally got there last night. Everybody was in agreement, and we got it done this morning.”
“It was a very trying and lengthy process,” Laimbeer said. “Lots of ups and downs. And you heard [Wings president Greg] Bibb, that he thought he had a couple things done here or there and it all fell apart. There’s never been anything like this story in the league and one day it’ll get told, but I’m not telling it today.”
In less than two weeks, however, we’ll start to get an idea of how Cambage can help the Aces in their pursuit of a playoff bid.
“I think Cambage makes an immediate impact,” Aces guard Kayla McBride said Thursday. “On the court, she’s a dominant presence. Her alongside A’ja [Wilson], two dominant post presences. We’re excited. We’re starting to build something in year two here in Vegas. We have one-of-one management, organization and family culture here and hopefully she can just add to that.”
Wilson is eager to get started and expects the two to develop a nice high-low game. She also appreciates playing for an organization willing to pounce on opportunities to rapidly improve the team so early in her WNBA career.
“When you make a trade like this, when you make a trade for Sugar Rodgers, it’s huge because they want what’s best for us and for the team,” Wilson said. “So why wouldn’t you want to play with a franchise like that? I’m lucky to be here, I’m happy to be here, and I’m ready to play.”
Now that the deal is done, Padover is happy to be looking ahead to the regular season.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing what the finished product will look like on the court and most of all, just ready for this team to focus on basketball,” Padover said. “They’re professional and always go about their business every day. But this thing has been out there, especially with all that noise that was made a couple of days ago. I’m glad that the players can just focus on basketball now.”
As for the basketball fit, Cambage and Wilson in tandem will force nearly every opponent into difficult decisions. Both players command double teams and while one goes to work, the other can duck in for deep post position or carve out prime real estate to attack the offensive glass.
“She fits right into what we’re doing,” Laimbeer said. She’s a very smart basketball player, a very talented basketball player. She’s a good passer. We all know she can score on the block. She can hit 15-footers.”
Cambage led the league in scoring last season at 23.0 points per game and shot nearly 59 percent from the field. She even knocked down a 3-pointer in the All-Star game to the delight of both her peers and the fans. Will we see her stretch her game out even more in 2019?
“Now she’ll say she can hit [3-pointers],” Laimbeer added with a smile, “But overall, what we do on offense is made for her also.”
The Aces will hope to get out to a better start than they did last season when they were hamstrung by late arrivals wrapping up their overseas commitments. They dropped their first four games and seven of eight overall. The additions of Cambage, Rodgers and No. 1 overall pick Jackie Young will be interesting to follow as the group begins to mesh.
“We’re ahead of where we were last year. We got a lot of pieces of our puzzle here,” Wilson said. “I think the biggest thing for us, and coach has always told us that every game for us is a playoff game.
“I don’t think we understood that the games at the beginning were just as important as the games at the end. And I think that was our biggest thing. So I think coming in with this, knowing each other, knowing the area and our coaching staff, I think we’re off to a greater start than we were last year.”
A great start and potential deep playoff run would send a strong message to Cambage, set to be a restricted free agent after this season, about the caliber of team that she has joined in Las Vegas. Players and team officials alike expressed confidence in the ability of their talent, a supportive ownership group and growing fan base to do the talking for them.
“Our team sells itself,” Laimbeer said. “The quality of players, the town sells itself—a big small town made for our product. Everything’s great about this whole situation. Obviously, every player has their own agenda. Liz will be a restricted free agent after this year, so we’ll still hold the rights to her going forward.”
Padover hopes the addition of another All-Star drums up excitement in the community to continue bringing new fans out to the Mandalay Bay Events Center this season.
Immediately when you think of names like [McBride, Wilson and Cambage], you add ‘em all up and you just hope that there’s a buzz that’s created. We’re going into year two in a city that’s a basketball town as its first professional basketball team. You just think that adding a player like Liz Cambage will really encourage the fan base to come out and watch high-quality basketball and high-quality people.”
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