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.
In case folks are interested in seeing how this was handled on Candace's intro press conference...Here is the video of @ANYamashita trying to ask his question about Dearica Hamby: https://t.co/D3lMME5cAV pic.twitter.com/t4fYChCs6f— Ben Pickman (@benpickman) February 7, 2023
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.