January 28, 2021 

What does losing Kayla McBride, adding Chelsea Gray mean for Las Vegas?

Long-tenured McBride will be missed, though Gray addition is huge

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PALMETTO, FL – September 3: Kayla McBride #21 of the Las Vegas Aces handles the ball against the Connecticut Sun on September 3, 2020 at the Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

A franchise pillar is leaving the Las Vegas Aces, as reports from Camille Buxeda of WSLAM and Rachel Galligan of WInsidr on Wednesday evening indicated: Kayla McBride is headed to Minnesota on a multiyear contract.

The move comes after The Next initially reported the Aces’ interest in Chelsea Gray, which would have likely left McBride on the outside of Las Vegas’ picture. Multiple league sources tell The Next that Gray is indeed heading to the Aces.

Such a move adds a critical playmaker to the Vegas mix. It also leaves the Aces without their longest-tenured player, a fantastic leader, All-Star and two-way star who had been with the franchise since its San Antonio days. 

While it is not necessarily a surprise that McBride would leave after Las Vegas opted to use the core designation on All-Star center Liz Cambage, the potential swap of Gray for McBride represents an intriguing statement of intention from the Las Vegas front office. In losing McBride’s wing defense and shooting, the Aces lose what little depth they had at that position and replace it with another brilliant player in Gray, but one who is best with the ball in her hands.

On an Aces roster with a great many players who are best when in control, this poses challenges. Clearly, the ability of Gray to play in transition stuck out to president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer, who leans toward fast break attackers in his rotation. Along with Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, the longtime Sparks play-maker will bring size and versatility to the Aces backcourt. 

After a team source this offseason imagined a “numbers game” that could lead to McBride’s departure, it remains to be seen what the final salary numbers will be for she and Gray. The Aces may have prioritized Gray because she came cheaper, but both All-Stars appear worth a near-maximum contract.

Assuming Cambage does play in the WNBA in 2021, her $221,450 salary will leave the Aces with about $440,000 in cap space with Gray’s deal to be determined. Should Gray earn a max contract as well, Las Vegas will have just more than $200,000 to sign the remaining two players to fill out its roster and their draft picks, should they keep all the non-guaranteed and training camp contracts currently on their books. 

Aside from all the technicalities at play as the Aces fill out their roster and look to return to the WNBA Finals in 2021, what the team loses in McBride cannot be overstated. McBride is the emotional core of Las Vegas, the enforcer of its culture, and its tough veteran leader. It’s no coincidence she has taken up coaching as a side gig, or that Laimbeer took to her. She is among the most consistent performers and respected competitors in the league.

The Aces are also now without one of their only long-range threats from a season ago. For a team centered around the interior brilliance of Cambage and 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson, squeezing out floor spacing has been a challenge two years running. With Plum and Dearica Hamby healthy and Angel McCoughtry increasingly comfortable as a spot-up threat, perhaps those problems are solved organically, but McBride was selfless and able to impact a game while hardly touching the ball. Those players are quite difficult to replace.

Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.

Written by Brendon Kleen

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