The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 16,2019
No bad guys, no Cambage resolution — Cathy Engelbert speaks — Must-click women's basketball links
(Editor’s Note: Subscribers, thank you for your support! You’re aboard for five different women’s sports newsletters in your inbox every week! For those of you on our free list, we’ll be sending you one newsletter a week. This week, you get Howard and basketball. Next week, Carly and golf. But to make sure you don’t go five weeks between visits from each of us: sign up now, $5 a month or $50 a year, and help us build the necessary infrastructure of women’s sports coverage.)
No bad guys, no resolution
We’ll get to the new WNBA Commissioner (and see our Five at The IX for more from Cathy Engelbert). But first: another week, and still no new home for Liz Cambage in the WNBA, now hurtling toward a May 24 opening night without its most marketable player.
Everyone is trying to figure out exactly who is holding things up: is it the Dallas Wings? Is it Cambage and her agent, Allison Galer? Is it the teams the Wings have engaged in trade talks, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Las Vegas Aces?
The short answer is yes, it’s everyone, and no, it’s no one.
In each case, folks could have done something differently and we’d have seen a resolution. Los Angeles chose to offer three assets ahead of the WNBA Draft. It was a deal that would have netted Dallas significantly more than their current offer from Las Vegas — Maria Vadeeva and two firsts is much better than Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison and a first. Los Angeles also then chose to reduce their offer after the draft, before dealing their 2020 pick to Connecticut for Chiney Ogwumike.
And yet, if you’re Los Angeles, and Cambage has told everyone she’d only play there, what reason do you have to offer more, bidding against yourself?
Speaking of that: Cambage is now willing to play in Las Vegas. That was not articulated to anyone, Las Vegas included, ahead of the draft. If it had been, the Aces would have been more aggressive, and Cambage probably has a new home already. But now, with Los Angeles out, what reason does Las Vegas have to bid against itself?
By contrast, Cambage, by telegraphing her preferred destination, is simply doing what other players before her, recently in the WNBA and for decades on the NBA side, while pushing back against extremely restrictive free agency rules in the league. That she doesn’t want to play for a rebuilding Dallas team differs in no discernible way from Anthony Davis’ stance in New Orleans. Still, had she been willing to go to Las Vegas earlier in this process, it is likely that a deal acceptable to Dallas could have been completed long ago.
So I can see it from everyone’s perspective. And I can appreciate that all involved would do things differently if given 20-20 hindsight. But all that means is that we’re witnessing a slow-motion car wreck now.
It is impossible to see Liz’s social media postings and not feel for her. It is sad to see a Dallas team that is playing with neither Liz Cambage or reinforcements acquired for her try to learn Brian Agler’s system at less than full strength. It’s impossible to think that Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, wouldn’t have been far better off acquiring Cambage with a full training camp. It took Sylvia Fowles, for example, quite some time to get settled once she arrived in Minnesota in a mid-year trade.
And the league, which seems to lose a star to injury every day lately, needs Liz Cambage desperately, too.
So this needs to get solved, and soon, or despite everyone’s legitimately good intentions, everybody loses.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Joe Tsai made his public debut as Liberty owner, and said some encouraging things about Barclays as a Liberty home in 2020.
Mike Anthony talks Chiney Ogwumike’s Connecticut exit.
Speaking of which: Matt Ellentuck points out that WNBA trade rumors are actually a good thing! It’s still weird to me that this is a question for anyone.
Don’t miss Seth Berkman on Han Xu.
Here’s Cierra Dillard’s brief pro sojourn to Minnesota.
Read up on Amber Cox, who should be a household name.
Bria Goss gets the Gregg Doyel treatment.
Brendon Kleen catches up with Diana Taurasi.
And keep your eye on this one: Riquna Williams, faces ongoing legal issues over an aggravated assault charge, nevertheless signed by the Sparks.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Cathy Engelbert, WNBA Commissioner
(Engelbert spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon. Here are a few of the questions, including my own.)
REPORTER: I’ve got a two part question for you. The first is you’re the first WNBA Commissioner, and your four predecessors were known as President. Does that mean anything differently to you with the new title? The second thing is I believe you’re starting July 17th. What is going to be your involvement for the next two months until you’re officially running the place?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so commissioner, obviously, I think it’s first of all, I’m honored and humbled to have that title. I think it comes with enormous responsibility. And although I don’t necessarily think that the prior people who had the position and the title president will be all that different. I think it is a seat at the table that’s important with the conversation around women and parity, and I’m very proud to hold that and understand that it comes with it a lot of responsibility. And just really humbled.
On the July date, I do have a term, so at Deloitte we have terms of the year. So, I have a term to finish, and our fiscal year ends with that term. And it’s important that I finish the financial part of my job at Deloitte and leave a great transition.
So, there’s a fair amount of things I need to get done between now and then, and then maybe a week or two off to spend with family. I have two graduations, a daughter graduating college and a son graduating high school, and all the things associated with that. So, that’s why the mid July date.
But in the meantime, I’ll be fully engaged with the launch and the tip off in a week or two of the WNBA season, attending games, again, networking with the ecosystem.
Reporter: Congratulations on your new position. I’m sure you feel like you’re drinking from a firehose, but during the hiring process, did the issue of ability to pay the WNBA players more so they don’t feel compelled to play in overseas leagues come up, and do you have any thoughts on that issue?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, I think there were a lot of issues that came up during the process which I was hearing before this role, and that’s certainly one of them. There were other issues. I know like the bargaining negotiations are going on. They’re certainly aware of the issues. I think an advantage of coming in in my transition, I will be listening to a lot of the players, the owners, the union. I did have the opportunity to meet with the union prior to the announcement today. So, that obviously is one of them.
There are others around player experience and, obviously, we all want to drive the league to greater heights financially, from a revenue perspective. So, those are all the things that we’ll hit the ground running on.
Reporter: Congratulations on the new job. I’m hoping you can take me through what you think negotiations look like both once you are fully on the job come July, and just over the next few months the awareness that there is this end of season deadline for the CBA to expire?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, I think obviously Mark and team have been involved in the current discussions with on the CBA, and those will continue. They don’t stop just because my technical start date is July 17th. Again, I’ll be engaging with both the players, the union, as well as with Mark and team, where we are with those issues and continue to hopefully drive those forward, and I think hopefully at this point I assure you and hopefully Mark isn’t going anywhere.
He and I have talked several times about this particular issue and he’s assured that I’m up to speed on the issues that the players want to see dealt with as well and, obviously, the league.
Reporter: Given your experience with women’s basketball over the years, how often have you been able to attend WNBA games, and especially with your business experience, have you maybe made like a mental list of things that you thought you’d like to see the league improve on or that you’d like to see the league do for the future?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so as I’ve been thinking about this role, I have lots of ideas, I think, as I’m coming in obviously fresh and I will be transitioning in over the next couple months, so there are a variety of things, as I said, and what I would call put in the category of fan experience, player experience and certainly from a revenue perspective, and I think there’s a massive inflection point for the growth of the league, and I think there’s really an opportunity to build the WNBA into a thriving business, as I said in my quote today, and I really believe that.
So, those are the types of things that I’ll be working on. Obviously, I’ve been very close to the game for a long time, mostly in the New York area as far as the WNBA. I haven’t even got to many NBA games because my current job requires so much travel, and especially during the busy times of year. But, certainly in the summer I tend to I get to many WNBA games and continue to and I already know because I watch a lot of them on TV and on other digital platforms, I already know the quality of the game and that the athletes are world class.
And I think the draft this year has a lot of great players coming into the league. It’s going to be very exciting. And so again, absolutely part of the way I thought about coming in and making an impact very quickly on the league as well as just having knowledge of the players, the games, the quality, and again, how these women should have a much bigger voice and how important it is for them to become leaders in the future as they are in sport today.
Reporter: Once you take your position, how involved will you be in the CBA negotiations, and how important is it to get an agreement before the expiration?
CATHY ENGELBERT: I’ve met with Terri Jackson already prior to being announced today, so I think that was a step forward, to meet with Terri and to start to get involved and engaged, and of course I’ll be very involved. I’ll get engaged as soon as I’m fully transitioned on board.
But I certainly want to meet with the executive committee. Obviously, we’ll be (indiscernible) have points of contact there. I think it is important that we reach an agreement with the players as we get into the 2020 season.