In WNBA expansion, the details will matter — Must-click women’s basketball links — Pokey Chatman talks Seattle Storm

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Oct. 4, 2023

It’s hard to call the mood around the women’s basketball world as anything short of gleeful these days. The WNBA Finals matchup best-positioned to impress a national TV audience as the days draw ever closer to a new media rights deal has happened, with the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces quickly selling tickets to the event. And the long-awaited WNBA expansion is finally here, too, with the announcement of a new team in the Bay Area coming on Thursday.

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We’ll have much more to come on this, of course, and over at The Next we already have a dedicated beat reporter for the new team.

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But within the week’s news came the reminder Wednesday that all was not settled with how Dearica Hamby was treated, either. Her EEOC lawsuit, against both the Las Vegas Aces and the WNBA, alleges not only that the Aces traded her because she was pregnant, but that the WNBA failed to adequately investigate it as well.

Since the moment the league handed down its punishment of the Aces over Hamby’s complaint prior to the season, an uneasy cloud has hovered over both parts of the punishment around the league. The punishment for impermissible benefits under the salary cap — forfeiting a 2025 first round draft pick — seemed almost comically small for many other front offices, who described this as a price anyone would pay for the opportunity to assemble Las Vegas’ talent without the salary cap restrictions.

The suspension of Becky Hammon for two games, though, over what she had allegedly said to Hamby was seen by many around the league as nothing less than an effort to avoid careful scrutiny of the head coach of one of the league’s most prominent teams.

The problem with taking a short-term solution that ignores deeper issues is that, eventually, those items will pop up at inconvenient times — say, as the league is preparing a huge announcement on expansion years in the making, and ahead of a WNBA Finals that has any fan of the game salivating over. Ask the 2021 NWSL for details.

If there is more to the Hamby story that reflects poorly on the league, an EEOC lawsuit ensures it will come out — ask U.S. Soccer for details — and cause a set of public relations problems that will impact the value of all the league’s gains.

This would always matter. At this moment in time, heading into a year of true evaluation and negotiation for a media rights deal by 2025? It’s arguably the most critical time in WNBA history.

It is vital to sweat the details as we cover women’s sports, or anything, properly. Accordingly, I’ll be listening for key details tomorrow on everything from the true level of investment from the Bay Area ownership group, to why and how the WNBA undertook the process of choosing between the multiple, viable ownership groups in the market, to what the arena setup and transportation to it all looks like. Who is running team operations, and does she have a history of success doing so in this league?

Folks have been critical of Cathy Engelbert for taking so long to expand, and that’s always struck me as unfair. You cannot expand without a viable ownership group, a place to play, and a price met that will satisfy the league and its owners. The first and second have been in place for a while in the Bay Area. The third, complicated by the unorthodox ownership structure of a WNBA team, took a while to unwind. (How it came to be so complicated, of course, is a whole other discussion.)

But now, as the league makes its long-awaited move, the delay only heightens how vitally important it is to get it right. There are no shortage of moving pieces to figure out — in just the next two years, we could be looking at expansion, stricter prioritization rules, the media rights deal and a potential (and expected) opt-out of the CBA by the players. The basic operating structure of the league is changing, in a huge way, and in ways that will define the next generation of women’s professional basketball in the world.

Here’s hoping the answers we hear tomorrow reflect those stakes.

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This week in women’s basketball

Really been enjoying PJ Brown’s series on Arizona newcomers.

And Adia Barnes provides more feels about the Pac-12’s demise.

Michael Voepel has the historical context on Liberty-Aces.

Keep an eye on Cori Close’s group, friends.

Caitlin Clark’s keeping us guessing.

Mazel tov, Ruthy Hebard!

Eric Thibault’s right: Jonquel Jones is “big and good”.

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Five at The IX: Pokey Chatman, Seattle Storm

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Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
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Written by Howard Megdal

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