Latest allegations cast larger cloud over Las Vegas Aces' offseason

Latest allegations cast larger cloud over Las Vegas Aces' offseason

What an odd offseason for the Las Vegas Aces.

On the positive end, they've followed up their first championship by adding future Hall of Famer Candace Parker and two-time champion Alysha Clark. From a basketball perspective, swapping out Dearica Hamby — who was traded in an effort to create room for these moves — and youngster Iliana Rupert (waived on Monday) for Parker and Clark signifies an upgrade on both ends.

How they got those upgrades, however, is rightfully under the microscope. 

The circumstances around the Hamby trade, specifically how she was treated before the deal, is currently under investigation by the WNBPA. In a statement released by Hamby on Instragram, she levied allegations against the organization of being "lied to, bullied, manipulated and discriminated against" due to her pregnancy. 

During Parker's introductory press conference on Tuesday, which also served as the first time media was allowed to pose questions to Nikki Fargas (Aces president) or Natalie Williams (Aces general manager), an attempt was made to gain further clarity into the investigation. Not only were those efforts dodged, but it was done so sloppily.

I'm no expert, but surely there's a better way of no-commenting a question than interrupting said-question while stating the subject of the question isn't available... while you can still see her in the Zoom call. At best, the approach generated even more questions

There was another line in Hamby's post worth following up on, especially now: "I was promised things to entice me to sign my contract extension that were not followed through on."

That could mean anything — from a guaranteed role or a "we won't trade you" pact, to paid opportunities outside of basketball. We don't know what that entails, but it would appear the WNBA would like to find out.

First reported by Howard Megdal of The Next, the WNBA is now investigating the Aces for potentially circumventing the cap by "making under-the-table payment offers to both current players and free agents the team has pursued."

From Megdal's report: 

According to those familiar with the allegations, the pattern alleged that the team followed typically involved a high-level member of the Aces instructing the agent of a potential signing — either a free agent, or an Aces player negotiating an extension — that at the conclusion of the phone call between team and agent, the agent would receive a call with an offer for a specific amount of money from a particular, pre-selected company. The work involved would be negligible, according to those familiar with the allegations.

If true, it would certainly help explain how the Aces were able to land Parker and Clark this season. Per Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats, Parker agreed to a one-year deal worth $100,000, while Clark signed a two-year deal worth $110K per season; Parker alone made $195,000 last season, while Clark ($183K) wasn't far behind. 

Taking a paycut to join a contender isn't unheard of, and it's worth noting Parker receives another stream of income through her NBA work for TNT/NBA TV. Still, those are pretty big pay cuts. And following the Hamby promise allegations, it's understandable that the league would look into how the Aces conducted their business.

On its own, though, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to be up in arms about these allegations.

On one hand, rules should be followed. The specific allegations the Aces are facing have been spelled out in the CBA. The W is serious about having a level playing field, highlighted by the $500K fine they levied to the New York Liberty ahead of last season for chartering flights

On the other hand, man these players deserve to make more money — and simply be treated better — than they currently are. It's a small league — 12 teams, up to 144 players — that's operating under a hard cap. Roster spots are limited; earning potential within the league is a bit restrictive — and that's without getting into how the prioritization rules will affect players moving forward.

It's hard for me to be upset at an organization for, if true, finding outside-opportunities (read: money) for players within a system in which they're underpaid.

I wasn't upset at all with the Liberty for chartering flights for their players, and didn't care much for the "competitive balance" argument against doing so. The players deserve to fly private, and owners that can't — or simply don't want to — spend enough to provide that service probably shouldn't be in ownership positions, in my humble opinion. 

Regardless of my feelings, the rules are the rules. And ultimately, this is yet another cloud over what could've been an offseason for the ages for the defending champions. We'll see how things play out. 

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