Column: Dallas outsmarted itself in the Liz Cambage talks

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman/NBAE/Getty Images

At this point, the ongoing trade negotiations involving Liz Cambage should take a back seat to her mental state of mind, especially if one saw what she recently posted on Instagram.

It is pretty obvious that something – either the trade saga or something else – is taking quite a toll on Cambage and the primary thing we have to do as fans is hope that one way or another she will be happy. Whether that is in the WNBA or elsewhere, Liz Cambage the woman ought to be the primary focus of fans as opposed to Liz Cambage the Australian internationally-recognized superstar basketball player.

Because even as she posted on the Gram, she is a human first and foremost – as we all are.

But turning the attention (somewhat regrettably) to the ongoing trade negotiations because that is the premise of this column, it appears to be the case that Greg Bibb and the Dallas Wings completely outsmarted themselves when trying to deal Cambage to another team.

Recently, it broke that the Wings were close to completing a trade with the Las Vegas Aces (one of the favorites this whole time in the Cambage sweepstakes) for Isabelle Harrison, Moriah Jefferson, and a draft pick. Then, everything began to reverse course and it appeared that the trade would not occur as planned.

What happened? According to Mechelle Voepel of ESPNW, the roadblock appears to have been caused not by Cambage, but by Jefferson, who has been rumored to want to sit out the 2019 season. Ironically, news of that only broke shortly after news about the rumored Las Vegas-Dallas deal.

Now with just over a week to go until the tip-off of the regular season on May 24…when one of the games on the WNBA’s opening night will feature Dallas (in Atlanta to play the Dream), we are still without a firm sense of if this deal will finally be complete or not.

When Cambage first demanded a trade from the Wings, the two rumored destinations that were likely were both out west – Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The Sparks supposedly had a major bargaining chip when they hired former Wings coach Fred Williams to be an assistant under head coach Derek Fisher because Williams was instrumental in getting Cambage to give the W another shot.

But Bibb, who fired Williams towards the end of the season because the two got into a much-publicized spat after a loss late in the season to Washington, has played hardball this whole time. He’s as much said that while he is looking to acquiesce to Cambage’s request of a trade, it had to make sense for the Wings organization.

What wonders what “making sense for the organization” meant in Bibb’s mind, but if he thought, even as badly as the Aces or Sparks may have wanted Cambage that if either Penny Toler in LA or Bill Laimbeer in Vegas were going to part ways with either Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, or A’ja Wilson to land a Liz Cambage, Bibb was horrifically mistaken.

Bibb outsmarted himself by playing hardball.

By being hard-line on his stance this late in the game about wanting fair and equitable value for her, the Wings have actually backed themselves into a corner where now they are negotiating on Las Vegas’ terms.

Los Angeles more than likely entertained the thought of bringing Cambage to the Sparks. There’s the Fred Williams connection, of course, plus as was evidenced by her attending Coachella with several Sparks players, that she’s cool like the other side of the pillow with those who don purple and gold.

And even beyond that, there’s the obvious. The Sparks are trying to get back to winning a championship ala what they did in 2016 when they defeated the Lynx in what was an unforgettable five-game Finals. Adding Cambage would make the Sparks the favorites to win it all, especially after the Seattle Storm lost last year’s regular season, Finals and World Cup MVP Breanna Stewart to injury for the entire season.

Instead, the Sparks did a deal with the Connecticut Sun to bring younger Ogwumike sister, Chiney, to Tinseltown. And while she may be the latest star to hit Hollywood, it seemingly left no room for the Sparks, a team that Cambage once made no secret about wanting to play for, to bring the face of Australian basketball to Southern California.

As a result, everything appeared to be in limbo, seemingly leaving Las Vegas as the only team left with the pieces that the Wings might accept in a Cambage deal. Laimbeer and the Aces are clearly, in typical Las Vegas fashion, playing their cards right while catching Bibb and the Wings overplaying theirs.

No way the Aces are going to part with Wilson in a Cambage deal even if that may very well be Bibb’s endgame of endgames. Wilson is the foundation of the Aces franchise as well as the WNBA’s future in Sin City and they are not going to mess that up with one trade. As a result, the Wings have backed themselves into a tight corner.

The strategy deployed by Bibb and the Wings may have been a good one if it was still a bidding war for Cambage’s services between the Sparks and the Aces. But with Los Angeles seemingly bowing out of the Cambage sweepstakes with that Connecticut deal, it leaves Bibb playing checkers while Laimbeer is clearly playing chess.

Bibb would have been better off evaluating what both the Sparks and Aces were offering and simply taking the better deal, whether it was coming from Las Vegas or Los Angeles. And it would have left Cambage in a better state of mind about playing the upcoming season and about the WNBA as a whole. With Bibb seemingly demanding a queen’s or king’s ransom from either Toler or Laimbeer, he gave both general managers all of his leverage. And it makes the Dallas Wings look like a mismanaged franchise that has already relocated twice (Detroit to Tulsa, Tulsa to Dallas) and, if Joe Lacob has his eyes fixed on the Metroplex after the Warriors owner completes San Francisco’s Chase Center, could be a candidate to move again.

Even worse…Bibb has now made it where the Cambage question is going to become a topic that Brian Agler and his players are going to have to deal with, especially if the Wings get off to a slow start. And without their big two of Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, that could very well happen.

This is going to become as much of a distraction for Dallas as the questions about the impending sale of the New York Liberty (and move to Westchester County Center) may have been for Katie Smith’s Libs last year. Win or lose when Dallas heads to Atlanta for Opening Night against the Dream at State Farm Arena, the questions will not be about how Agler did in his first game as Dallas coach or how Arike Ogunbowale performed in her first regular season WNBA contest.

Much of them will be regarding Cambage’s status, and Bibb will only have himself to blame.

An even better example may be the 2017 Chicago Sky, who had to deal with the fact that Elena Delle Donne, who was drafted into the WNBA by Chicago, left the Windy City to be closer to her native Delaware and don Washington Mystics red, white and blue.

And while the ongoing questions that season about how they were performing sans Delle Donne may have been shrugged off by Sky players and coaches, it was obvious to anyone who watched Chicago that season that there was a huge Delle Donne-shaped hole in their lineup that they just could not fill that season.

No one when Cambage first demanded a trade that this would be an issue that would linger to, virtually, the start of the regular season. This late in the game, it is best for all parties involved to end this madness and simply do a deal.

It would certainly be best for the WNBA because it keeps one of the league’s most marketable players in the league, it would definitely be best for the Aces because a great argument can be made that they would become title contenders, and it would even be best for the Wings because they can move past this self-inflicted debacle and start fresh again.

And, most importantly, it would be best for Cambage herself…and that’s what matters right now more than anything.

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