November 2, 2020 

The Las Vegas Aces’ offseason: Where no news would be good news

Exploring one path for the 2021 offseason

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PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 13: Danielle Robinson #3 of the Las Vegas Aces handles the ball during the game against the Seattle Storm on September 13, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAEvia Getty Images)

The to-do list looks rather simple for the Las Vegas Aces at this juncture when it comes to putting the core group that they envisioned for 2020 on the floor in 2021: re-sign Liz Cambage and Kayla McBride.

Each offseason is sure to come with a few surprises somewhere in the league. But until some dominoes around Las Vegas start to fall and find new homes, it’s difficult to envision a major shakeup for a team that already felt very confident in its ability to compete for a championship coming out the last free agency period. With the help of The Next’s salary database, let’s take a look at the numbers and a few paths that the Aces could pursue this offseason.

Angel McCoughtry, Dearica Hamby, Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young and JiSu Park are under contract through at least 2021. Seven spots are spoken for between those names and the team’s first round pick (No. 12 overall) in the 2021 draft. Re-signing Cambage and McBride would push the roster count to nine. McCoughtry, Hamby and Plum fill three of the team’s six slots with base salary protection. Cambage and McBride would figure to command protection as well, leaving one spot open.

In that group of nine, the Aces would have their theoretical starting five (Plum, McBride, McCoughtry, Wilson, Cambage), their two top reserves (Hamby, Young), a young backup big (Park), and the first round pick. If we pencil in Cambage for an upper-maximum salary of $221,450 and McBride at the same number as the first year of Plum’s extension, $175,000, simply as a ballpark figure, the Aces would have just shy of $200,000 to work with under the salary cap.

Before addressing possibilities for the final spots, several events may change that number for those nine roster spots. First, McBride may command a higher salary, especially if a competitor emerges in free agency hoping to entice her with a big multi-year deal. Even if they believe that a departure is unlikely, the Aces must put some contingency plans in place. Losing McBride’s complementary offensive skill set would hurt a great deal.

Park sat out the 2020 season to train in South Korea. If she took a similar route in 2021, think of her spot as one reserved for another backup big instead: a slightly lower number for either a 2021 second round pick or a minimum contract for a free agent with less than three years of service, or about $2,000 more for a veteran’s minimum (three or more years of service) for a fourth big—possibly Carolyn Swords returning for a 10th season or a new addition via free agency to add some depth behind Cambage, Wilson and Hamby.

The first-round pick represents an opportunity to add and develop a young player that can contribute at some point during this current window. The team is in a good position to take that approach with at least one roster spot without expecting too much too soon. Young and Hamby alone can soak up the lion’s share of the bench minutes. However, in the first several offseason under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, it will be interesting to see if established rotation players are open to taking smaller deals to play for a winner. The Aces may have some pull in that regard.

Under this general framework with nine spots filled, the big question for head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer and general manager Dan Padover is whether they want to plan for 11 or 12 players on the 2021 roster. There is a path to get to 12 with three minimum salaries. If they go into February willing to keep just 11, then they might be looking at something like one big one-year deal for a veteran free agent—remember that they can sweeten that deal even further with full salary protection—and one much smaller contract, possibly even a minimum.

Point guard Danielle Robinson is the biggest 2020 contributor that has not been mentioned yet. The nine-year veteran finished fifth in minutes played and supplanted Lindsay Allen in the starting lineup in the postseason. Robinson appears to be a prime candidate for the aforementioned one-year deal for a veteran free agent. Re-signing Robinson would solidify the point guard rotation and make it easier to lessen the minutes load on Plum coming back from a torn Achilles.

If Robinson did find a new home, would the Aces look elsewhere for some point guard depth or lean on in-house options? Young could step in as a ball-handler off the bench, and the team could look to re-sign Allen, who started 22 games this season. Sugar Rodgers, Emma Cannon, and Cierra Burdick are also slated to hit free agency this offseason.

The point guard question and the natural mystery to that No. 12 pick complicate the question of whether the Aces should plan to carry 11 or 12 players. One hypothetical: What if the Aces love a point guard or two that they expect to be available in the 8-to-12 range in the first round? Teams have even more draft scenarios to prepare for in this draft cycle with the NCAA’s announcement that winter sport athletes have been given an additional year of eligibility.

Because free agency occurs before the draft, the Aces can’t necessarily bank on a 2021 draftee filling a specific role. They need to make the most of free agency without knowing what the pool of draft prospects will look like even in early February. So if another team is looking to pick up another first rounder, some interesting possibilities could open up for the Aces. Two teams, Connecticut and Washington, do not hold any 2021 first rounders at the moment; Dallas holds three.

Las Vegas would have 10 spots filled if we also tack on a backup point guard in some form. The Aces would be two deep at every position if they signed a shooter on the wing—possibly Rodgers or somebody else in free agency. That could leave the No. 12 pick to fill the 11th spot.

The Aces are in a position where a relatively calm and uneventful offseason wouldn’t be bad news. Running it back with a few possible tweaks with the final spots seems like a reasonable and perfectly desirable outcome. Other teams with several big names hitting free agency at once may have more scenario-planning to do. But the Aces have plenty of possibilities to consider even if their biggest decision comes down to rolling with 11 or 12 on the roster as they aim to put the best possible team on the floor looking to win it all in 2021.

Written by Ben Dull

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