Aces add Angel, make big splash on day one
The Las Vegas Aces announced the signing of unrestricted free agent forward Angel McCoughtry on Monday.
[Update, Feb. 10, 6:37 ET: The Aces inked McCoughtry to a two-year, fully guaranteed deal that will start at $185,000 in 2020 per Winsidr.]
The six-time All-WNBA selection joins a strong core group in Las Vegas featuring 2019 All-Stars Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride. The Aces are well-positioned to retain Cambage, a restricted free agent this offseason.
Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, reigning Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, JiSu Park, McBride and Wilson are already under contract through 2020. Plum and Young both got minutes running point last season, and Hamby unlocked numerous lineup combinations sliding between forward spots.
The Atlanta Dream, who selected McCoughtry as the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, made the most notable decision leading up to the start of free agency by opting not to core her. The 10-year WNBA veteran was free to sign with any team. She projects as the starter at the 3 in Las Vegas. A trio of Cambage, Wilson and McCoughtry would become the league’s most physically imposing frontcourt.
The Aces notched a 21-13 record in 2019 and defeated the Chicago Sky to advance to the semifinals. The Washington Mystics won Game 4 of that series in Las Vegas to advance to the WNBA Finals. Securing the double-bye that comes with a top-two finish will be a top priority in 2020. The Aces finished two games back of the Connecticut Sun in the race for that No. 2 seed.
McCoughtry is coming off the ACL tear that ended her 2018 campaign. She had a second surgery on the same knee and did not play in 2019. The 6’1″ forward is playing overseas for Dynamo Kursk this offseason and took the floor for USA Basketball in an exhibition against Louisville, her alma mater, earlier this month.
The Aces have added a physical presence on the wing. McCoughtry can put pressure on a defense getting all the way to the rim from the perimeter; Vegas was light in that department last season. She’s also a very accomplished midrange scorer. This group will need players that can make plays in tight spaces with star bigs that spend most of their time in and around the paint.
To address the obvious, this move hinges on the state of that knee. We’ll be nearly two years removed from McCoughtry’s last WNBA game by the 2020 season opener. No one can know for certain what the age-33 version of McCoughtry will look like coming off a serious injury, or how it might impact the final stage(s) of her career.
The seven-time All-Defense honoree will look to bolster the league’s No. 1 defense. Vegas led the league in defensive rating in 2019, allowing 95.0 points per 100 possessions.
And though McCoughtry is just a 28.6 career 3-point shooter, her self-created offense would be an upgrade on the wing. (Don’t overlook the creases McCoughtry forays into the lane will open up for her teammates to hit the offensive glass.)
Slightly scaling Young’s role back may be the best move for the franchise and her development considering the team’s window to win now. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick shot 14-of-44 from distance last season and just 32 percent inside the arc. Plum excelled as the lead guard in the Washington series, potentially opening a door for a Plum-McBride-McCoughtry starting trio with Young coming off the bench.
One big question surrounding the Vegas offense: How much are the various perimeter combinations able to open up room for Wilson and Cambage inside? Spacing was a key element in Washington’s title run. When the Mystics played through league MVP Elena Delle Donne and Finals MVP Emma Meesseman inside, they often surrounded each player with four capable 3-point shooters.
Opposing defenses didn’t face those daunting stakes in forcing a Cambage or Wilson kick-out pass. Hammering away as teams clog the lane can only get you so far against offensive powers like Washington and Seattle that are regularly countering with threes.
Ultimately, the Aces aren’t sacrificing much with this signing. Winsidr reported on Monday that McCoughtry’s deal likely comes in at the max for multiple seasons. That kind of financial commitment—along with the chunk of minutes carved out for McCoughtry—will impact the back end of the rotation and their flexibility moving forward.
Reserve guards/wings Tamera Young, Sugar Rodgers, Epiphanny Prince and Sydney Colson are unrestricted free agents. How much playing time can Vegas offer those vets or any potential replacements with Plum, McBride, McCoughtry and Jackie Young already in tow?
As Plum, Wilson and Young come off their rookie-scale deals looking for raises in back-to-back-to-back years, just how big is the window to keep this new core group of seven together? McBride, Hamby and Cambage, if she inks a one- or two-year deal this offseason, will also be eligible for raises as they hit unrestricted free agency in 2021 or 2022.
Working with the High Post Hoops salary database, here’s one way to look at their cap sheet. After penciling Cambage in at the max, the Aces had five open roster spots. If you fill each spot with a minimum salary, Laimbeer and Dan Padover had just north of $355,000, or 27 percent of the salary cap, to divvy up in filling those slots to round out the roster.
Penciling in McCoughtry at the max, the team would have about $227,000 to work with to fill four more spots. Of that group of unrestricted free agents, Tamera Young had the biggest role. The 13-year veteran logged nearly 700 minutes last season. She started the final four games of the regular season and the team’s first two playoff games as Plum was (temporarily) moved to the bench.
McCoughtry, Jackie Young and Hamby could fill 40 minutes at the 3 quite easily to mitigate that potential loss. Making an effort to retain Tamera Young has its merits, too, namely in how Laimbeer would be able to roll out some enormous lineups to smother their opponents, switch more actions without ceding significant mismatches inside and further dominate the rebounding battle.
The list of top unrestricted free agent wings also includes Shekinna Stricklen and All-Star DeWanna Bonner. The former would have been an ideal target to infuse their core lineups with more shooting. But at this time, it’s unclear whether either player was much of an option for the Aces.
That said, it’s tough to find an argument against the McCoughtry signing that would hold much water with what we know now. The Aces’ top seven ranks right up there with anyone else in the league, and they appear to have enough cap room left to add some serviceable depth. One high-volume shooter would be ideal.
(Day one of 2020 WNBA free agency has not disappointed. One could argue that the Aces didn’t even make the biggest splash in their conference.)
McCoughtry has officially turned the page after ten seasons with the Dream. She led her former team to three Finals appearances at the start of last decade and now has a chance to be a part of a group that wins it all to usher in the 2020s.
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