2020 Reflections and 2021 Forecasts: Las Vegas Aces

What is the Las Vegas Aces' salary cap situation and what might the team look like next year?

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Just as Nevada’s Clark County was the last to count its votes, so the final team in our survey of the WNBA 2020 season and 2021 outlook is the team representing Clark County’s largest city, the Las Vegas Aces.

By the Numbers

  • 18-4 (.818 winning percentage), 1st seed in the playoffs, lost in WNBA Finals

  • Points Scored: 88.7 (1st), Points Allowed: 80.1 (3rd), Margin Per Game: +8.6 (2nd)

  • Offensive Rating: 106.4 (1st), Defensive Rating: 95.6 (2nd), Net Rating: +10.9 (2nd)

  • Pace: 83.6 (3rd)

2020 Synopsis

Legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully used to quote this John Greenleaf Whittier poem:

“Of all the words of tongue and pen, 

The saddest are these: ‘It might have been’”

So imagine the Las Vegas Aces with Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson dominating the paint, an unstoppable one-two punch around the rim.

Or how about Kelsey Plum raining threes, forcing defenses to choose between taking away her perimeter game or allowing Cambage and Wilson to go to work inside.

And even without Cambage and Plum -- which of course was the case -- how different would the WNBA Finals have been if Dearica Hamby, who played the third-most minutes during the regular season, had been able to take the floor?

What might have been? Well, conceivably one of the most dominant WNBA teams ever, led by a demanding, successful coach, with a pair of actual and potential MVPs down low, two gunslingers on the perimeter, and veteran depth everywhere. As it was, Las Vegas posted the best record in the league (tied with Seattle), advanced to the WNBA Finals even with Hamby missing some games along the way, and still made it tough on the Storm despite having to rely on players who, frankly, were much better suited to more limited roles. 

Still, Laimbeer made adjustments, pivoting away from the three-point mania that dominates the modern game (even though the team was fourth in the league in three-point percentage) to focus on defensive rebounding (first), avoiding fouls (first) and taking care of the ball (first in assist-to-turnover ratio). Of course, it didn’t hurt that Wilson emerged as the MVP (20.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.29 A/TO) and Angel McCoughtry showed she still had enough juice at 34 to lead the league in Player Efficiency Rating. Still, outside shooting was shaky at times and point guard play was less than optimal, weaknesses that were exploited in the Finals. Nonetheless, despite the final three games,  it was a really good season for Las Vegas.

Except for what might have been.

Salary Cap Situation

Unrestricted free agents

Free to sign with any team

Restricted free agents

Current team can match contract signed with another team

Reserved and “Suspended-Contract Expired” players

Can only negotiate with the Aces

2021 Draft Picks

  • 12th Pick (1st round 12th pick), $64,375

  • 24th Pick (2nd round 12th pick)

  • 36th Pick (3rd round 12th pick)

2021 Roster and Cap Situation Summary

There are lots of question marks for the Aces. They may well make use of their core designation but they can only use it on one of Liz Cambage or Kayla McBride, which means the other will be a true unrestricted free agent. Unless they're 100% certain that Cambage would re-sign with them ahead of anyone else, she seems the likely core designee (although even then, especially in an Olympic year, there's the risk she won't play in the WNBA at all).

If the Aces retain the six currently under contract and Cambage takes the supermax, they'd have $444,181 left for four or five players. Let's say two of those spots go to their first-round pick ($64,375) and Lindsay Allen taking her qualifying offer ($70,040). That would leave around $310,000 for the remaining two or three players. Considering McBride or someone of similar quality could take at least $170,000 of that, it's not a huge amount of room to try to make improvements (and/or to retain Danielle Robinson, their starting point guard in the playoffs). So Bill Laimbeer and 2020 Executive of the Year Dan Padover have a little wiggle room to make moves, but with Kelsey Plum now off her rookie-scale deal and A'ja Wilson heading into the final year of hers, not as much as they used to have.

Looking to 2021

Will she or won’t she? Liz Cambage is undoubtedly one of the best players on the planet, but she’s also played only four of her ten possible seasons in the WNBA. It’s possible that she will play in the league next summer as a tuneup for Australia’s Olympic effort, or it’s possible she may decide to stay home and work with the Opals. Or she might show up for a while and then leave early. It’s also possible that, unless she’s cored by the Aces, she could sign with another team.

But if Cambage does play for Las Vegas, the Aces are going to be a heavy favorite in the league because adding a great player makes them even better -- and they tied for the best record in the WNBA last year.

Then again ...

Will she or won’t she? Even if Cambage signs, will she be able to mesh seamlessly with MVP A’ja Wilson? The two of them need to occupy the same space on the court, and if both are down low, it becomes much easier for defenses to bring extra help. And on top of that, who gets the ball in crunch time? And are there enough interior shots to go around?

Aside from those questions, though, 2021 does look good for Las Vegas. There’s no reason to think Angel McCoughtry can’t perform at a high level again, and the return of Kelsey Plum gives the Aces the outside shooter and point guard they so desperately need to balance their 2020 inside-heavy attack.

Fans can also hope for a leap forward for former first-overall pick Jackie Young, who might be ready to blossom in her third year in the league.

In the end, though, how 2021 shapes up for Las Vegas will depend greatly on Liz Cambage -- which means, given her history, question marks will hover over the team for some time to come.

Want to read about another team? Here are our previously published breakdowns:

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