May 10, 2021 

Aces notebook: How does Las Vegas weather Angel McCoughtry’s injury?

And a spoonful of Sugar helps the Laimbeer messages go down

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 5: Sugar Rodgers #14 of the Las Vegas Aces handles the ball against the Atlanta Dream on September 5, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo via WNBA Content Network.

The Las Vegas Aces wrapped up their 2021 preseason schedule Saturday with a game in Los Angeles against the Sparks. The team looked more like themselves offensively, getting a combined 40 points from dynamic duo of Liz Cambage (21) and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (19). 

When it came to holding onto the ball, though, they could use some work. The Aces committed 27 turnovers throughout the game (you read that right), which the Sparks converted into 30 points.

But the bigger long-term issue is that Angel McCoughtry went down with a right knee injury just three minutes into the first quarter after grabbing an offensive rebound. She returned to the bench, but not to play.

Despite this, there are a few reasons head coach Bill Laimbeer feels his team is wrapping up training camp on a high note. The Aces are meshing together well off the court, their star players are learning the system and they’ve added a trusted and beloved assistant coach in Sugar Rodgers.

A spoonful of Sugar

Last week, the team added eight-year WNBA veteran Sugar Rodgers to the coaching staff. Six of those eight years she actually spent under Laimbeer, and two of them were in Las Vegas.

She’s a perfect add to this young coaching staff, which includes second-year assistant Tanisha Wright and first-year assistant Vanessa Nygaard, because she already knows many of the players, as well as how Laimbeer operates.

She’ll also be a perfect compliment to Laimbeer’s gruff coaching style. He even joked that part of her job will be diffusing tense situations he may create.

“I mean, I just go in with my sweet soft voice and just calm everything down,” Rodgers said. “But just positive reinforcement because sometimes Bill can be a little hard on the girls, but I come here with my positive words of affirmation. You know, keep their head above water.”

As a student of the game, Rodgers is known for adapting over time in order to keep herself valuable to teams. She knows what it takes to be successful in the league, and more importantly, she’s a good person with a good story to tell.

Plus she’s coming off the heels of her playing career, with the same team she’s now helping to coach. Rogers believes this will help her transition smoothly into a coaching role.

“Just being a player and understanding what these players go through — I think that’s the most important,” Rodgers said. “The trust that comes with me being a player, and they know that I played on this exact team with some of the same girls.”

Rodgers’ assistance on the sidelines will provide some balance to the Aces coaching staff, with her words of encouragement and relatability for players as she strives to be a true players’ coach.

A bumpy road

Cambage and Wilson’s combined 40 points Saturday were boosted by Kelsey Plum’s 14 points off the bench. We started to see this Aces offense come to life.

When it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s going to be a scary thing.

We also got our first look at Chelsea Gray in black and red on Saturday. She’d been quarantining after finishing up overseas play before finally joining the Aces at training camp late last week. Gray put up 7 points and handed out 3 assists in over 25 minutes of play.

“I think she’s going to have to adjust to us and how we play business, so it’s going to be a learning experience,” Laimbeer said of Gray. “She’s very talented. She’s very smart, but at the end of the day, it’s easier for the individual to adjust to the team, rather than the team adjust to the individual.”

With McCoughtry out for the foreseeable future, the team is going to have to do some rethinking and nail down some new rotations. With that comes growing pains, most obviously the 27 turnovers we saw Saturday.

When you get down to it, this team really only has four returning players from last year. You’ve also got players like Kelsey Plum coming off an injury season. So these errors and miscues come from not knowing each other well enough right now and not knowing how to play as one cohesive unit yet.

“I want to see every day we come to work and learn more about each other,” Laimbeer said. “My goal is that when we hit the break, we’re there, and then after the break, you know, get out of our way. We’re going to have a bumpy road at the start, but at the same time this is about winning the playoffs, not how you played the first two or three games.”

There’s no doubt this team is stacked with talent, it just may take a while for the wheels to get going.

Winning chemistry

You can’t underestimate the value of a team who likes each other. And it only takes one look at how these Aces players interact, both on the court and online, to see they mesh well.

A team that TikToks together, wins together, right? Laimbeer insisted he doesn’t know about what his team does on social media, but does know he has a special chemistry in front of him.

“They are arguably in the top three of units and teams that like each other, that believe in each other, that look out for each other… And they’re very close as a whole,” Laimbeer said. “That’s wonderful as a coach to have, because it creates internal peer pressure amongst themselves, which takes half the coach’s problems away.”

Looking ahead

  • May 13: opening roster cut-down deadline

  • May 15: last day to extend contract for drafted players following third-year rookie scale contract; last day to exercise fourth-year options for drafted players following second year of rookie scale contract

  • May 15: season opener vs Seattle Storm, 12 p.m.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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