This is how the Liz Cambage story ends — Hear from Commissioner’s Cup winners and losers — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 27, 2022

I’m always a little bit sad when I think about Liz Cambage’s career trajectory.

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Let’s start here: I’d be shocked if we ever saw her in uniform in the WNBA again, after Cambage and the Sparks “divorced” because, you know, Cambage “quit”. No, not because she’s going to “focus on her modeling career and deejaying, skills that are said to be admirable”. (You don’t have to use a line verbatim just because a source says it, friends!)

But indeed, Liz Cambage had one team willing to sign her this offseason: the Los Angeles Sparks. She arrived, helped remove the coach and GM, Derek Fisher, who’d brought her in (after just 12 games!), then quit before the season ended on Fred Williams, the coach she had the best relationship with of anyone in the league.

I am SURE people like Cheryl Reeve, Dan Padover and Lin Dunn will be knocking down her door to come bring the same energy to their teams.

It’s funny, the things you remember. I recall a press-row conversation with my friend Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press during the period from 2013-2018 in which Cambage wasn’t playing in the league. I’m a stats guy, Doug values the eye test. But I pointed out just how valuable Cambage was statistically, and how much she’d impact the Wings if she ever returned to the league. Doug, who’d covered her in person, was skeptical.

There may not be a better person than Liz Cambage to illustrate how much more there is to player evaluation than the numbers. Cambage is going to finish her career with 20.3 win shares. That’s good for 82nd in the history of the league, and among players with fewer than 200 games played, it is seventh.

But has anyone done more to destroy the winning cultures of her teams over the past decade than Liz Cambage? Dallas, blown up. Las Vegas did not want to retain her last offseason. And it is hard to fathom just how far back Cambage has set the Sparks, who never got to see what they could be with Fisher (seriously, giving your head coach and GM a win-now mandate and then firing him after 12 middling games will always be a ridiculous choice) while giving up next year’s first-round pick in the process. I didn’t hate this — a high-risk, high-reward effort to try and maximize Nneka Ogwumike’s peak. But the blowup couldn’t have gone more like the skeptics predicted.

And Australia? That’s an entire other thing. The WNBA still should investigate fully and, despite the likelihood Cambage never returns, mete out appropriate punishment. Watch this and really consider what it would mean for the league not to weigh in on it.

And yet: Liz Cambage was a transcendent basketball player when she was on the court and focused. I will not soon forget seeing her score 53 points in one game, watching even other bigs like Elena Delle Donne just bounce off of her, cartoon-style. She sucked the oxygen out of every room she was ever in and you could not ignore her if you tried. For good, and overwhelmingly, for ill. It was thrilling, it was exhausting.

And it is over now, before Liz Cambage even turns 31. Her skills, it can be said, were admirable. Not much else was.

This week in women’s basketball

Dawn Staley is always interesting.
Love this Shock deep dive from Maggie Hendricks.
Terrific piece from Rachel Galligan on Kelsey Plum’s mental health.
Barbara Barker and Sue Wicks? SIGN ME UP.
DiDi Richards and Betnijah Laney kick off a new Players’ Tribune series, Nail Salon.
Another new show from Ari Chambers, amazing how my friend ALWAYS finds the time
Claire Kuwana on Stef Dolson will lift your spirits.
Why exactly was the decision made to send Brittney Griner back into a war zone while she had COVID-19?
The race for the final three WNBA playoff spots is FUN.

Five at The IX: Commissioner’s Cup winning, losing postgames

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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.