The Las Vegas Aces have once again found themselves in a bit of hot water as it relates to the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement with its players association.
First, it was the Dearica Hamby situation. Hamby posted on her Instagram that she was essentially mistreated and bullied by Aces brass because of her desire to get pregnant with a second child. The Aces recently announced that there is indeed an investigation into Hamby’s allegations by the WNBA in addition to the union looking into the matter.
Now, there is that Howard Megdal report that alleges Las Vegas may have been using methods a bit too innovative with the purpose of circumventing the salary cap – and, by proxy, the CBA.
Megdal, Editor-In-Chief at the Next, is the same Megdal who broke the “Traveling Violation” story last year for Sports Illustrated. We know…the one where the New York Liberty got caught with its seafoam, black and copper hands in the chartered flights cookie jar that resulted in a $500,000 fine for the organization.
Now, Megdal has unearthed this story which is centered around supposed conversations that Mark Davis has had with agents of players. The gist of the allegations is that players would take less money in their actual contracts so teams could have more salary cap room to make more rooms, but that players would receive additional money via incentives that are akin to Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals for collegiate athletes.
Candace Parker reportedly took less money to sign with the Aces – as was the case with Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot in their deals with New York. Those latter two deals raised plenty of eyebrows in the wake of Megdal’s report particularly considering a graf in said report which indicates agents were directing other teams to do similar deals.
At least one source within the league mentioned to Megdal that this investigation could top the one into the Liberty for chartering planes in the second half of the 2021 season. But … it is not lost on anyone that this is the second consecutive calendar year that Megdal has the go-to for a story allegedly involving an owner who is not afraid to throw money in the direction of their respective WNBA product.
From the perspective of players, they may not look at what Davis is alleged to have done through the lens of the CBA. They are looking at it from a perspective of which owners are taking care of its players better than other owners. A good bit of the league sees the Aces and Liberty has model franchises for the rest of the WNBA because Davis and Clara Wu & Joe Tsai at Atlantic & Flatbush have displayed a willingness to actually treat their W teams as worthwhile investments as opposed to mere charity operations to further women’s equality.
And as we know from the Megdal report into the Liberty, there are owners who currently have WNBA teams in their portfolios that are only against the chartered flights concept only because…well, vibes. The rush of top tier free agents to join Las Vegas and New York was no accident – the chartered flights issue is a major one for WNBA players and teams who have owners that are pro-charters will be at the top of the wish list of many a free agent.
Hamby’s allegations against the Aces appear to be more serious than what has been alleged recently involving the salary cap. Supposedly giving a former Sixth Woman of the Year grief solely because she wanted to be a mom of two instead of a mom of one is a horrible look for a women’s professional team.
These allegations re: the Aces and the salary cap appear to be sour grapes by other owners who are simply upset that Las Vegas and New York (and to a lesser extent Atlanta Dream) are reaping the free agent benefits of being franchises that put players first.
At the very least, these owners look at WNBA players as the world-class ballers they are as opposed to looking down on them simply because they secretly think men deserve more than women.
Either way that this eventually comes to a head, this will not be a good look for Cathy Engelbert and the WNBA. It is a lose-lose for the W regardless. If the league does not take any action, it is all but saying that these arrangements between owners and agents should practically be the norm throughout the league.
If the WNBA does decide to impose a hefty fine on the Aces that may result in suspensions, fines or surrendering of draft picks, it once again puts the emphasis on the league’s still meager salaries that were supposed to be a major focal point of the CBA. From the perspective of players, they see an owner willing to invest even if that owner has to encounter CBA red tape to do it.
The WNBA’s current CBA is supposed to last through the 2027 season, but there is an opt-out clause in 2025. Recent player concerns regarding not only charters but also prioritization may make it more likely that said CBA is indeed opted out of.
The saying is “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game.” Other owners who may not have been as fortunate with free agency this go-round may simply be upset that they are getting priced out of the game because the world-class players of the WNBA are sending a message that they deserved to be invested because of their elite basketball talents.
If more owners enter the league with the mindset of Davis, the Tsais and Renee Montgomery & Larry Gottesdiener in Atlanta, it will only result in a better WNBA for everyone.
Now … let us see how the Hamby investigation works itself out…