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Why Liz Cambage’s trade to the Aces is incredible for the WNBA

Cambage makes the league’s newest market in Las Vegas must-see TV (sorry, Wings fans).

Four months after she requested out from the Dallas Wings, Liz Cambage was traded to the Las Vegas Aces. The deal will send Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison, and 2020 first- and second-round picks to Dallas. Cambage, the WNBA’s leading scorer and MVP runner-up a year ago, immediately makes Las Vegas a championship contender.

Cambage’s inevitable trade lingered for months, with fans wondering if she’d play at all during the 2019 season. Cambage had her eyes set on the Los Angeles Sparks at the time of her request, but the 6’8 center is happy to play in Las Vegas, her agent, Alison Galer, told SB Nation. Cambage will report to the team prior to the May 26 season opener and is expected to start the season on time.

Though the Aces won out, the Sparks were in contention for Cambage’s talents up and through the final weeks before she was dealt to Vegas. Even after the Sparks made a separate trade for all-star big Chiney Ogwumike on April 27, they aimed to acquire Cambage, too, league sources told SB Nation.

Instead, Cambage will head to Vegas with a chance at competing for a title.

The Aces are now stacked with back-to-back-to-back No. 1 picks and the league’s most dynamic scorer, Cambage, who set a WNBA record with 53 points in a 40-minute game last season. Kelsey Plum, 2017’s top pick and the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, will play guard with 2019 No. 1 pick and do-it-all complement Jackie Young. All-star Kayla McBride is a knockdown shooter on the wing, and Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson will join Cambage down low.

In just their second season since relocating from San Antonio, the Aces are about to be the league’s biggest bandwagon franchise.

Cambage’s trade is perfect for a growing WNBA

The WNBA has rarely featured significant star player movement due to its current team-friendly CBA. Teams are awarded a “core” provision, which is essentially a franchise tag that forces a player into signing with her current team, and it can be applied four times. Players can reach 30 years old before having their first unrestricted free agency, providing little offseason drama for fans and an unreasonable wait time for superstars to go play where they want.

But this summer has featured two stars relocating, with Ogwumike forcing her way from the Connecticut Sun to reunite with her sister in LA, and now Cambage doing the same to land in Vegas. Though Sun and Wings fans may not be happy, their moves are net positives for the league and will provide a more competitive and spicy postseason.

It’s important for the league in particular that Cambage ended up in Vegas. Green-lighting the franchise’s relocation from stable San Antonio to a city without another pro basketball team was a gamble. But now, Las Vegas is stacked with two of the WNBA’s most recognizable superstars in Cambage and Wilson, as well as a fleet of top picks. The WNBA couldn’t have asked for better tools to capture the interest of a fresh basketball market, both on and off the court.

The Dallas Wings got a crummy deal

Replacing Cambage’s talent was never feasible after she requested out. She’s arguably the best player in the world, and certainly no worse than third alongside Seattle’s Breanna Stewart and Washington’s Elena Delle Donne.

But Dallas had at least one better and less risky deal on the table. According to High Post Hoops’ Howard Megdal, the Sparks offered Dallas 2018 first-round pick Maria Vadeeva, their 2019 No. 7 pick (which ultimately became Kalani Brown), and a 2020 first-round pick prior to the WNBA Draft. Instead, the Wings made a move with Vegas for two players who were injured last season and low-round picks.

Jefferson, a former UConn standout, was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, but injuries have hampered the beginning of her career. She was stellar as an all-rookie team member in 2016, but missed 13 games in 2017 to a right knee injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. She missed the first 17 games rehabbing in 2018, and only averaged five points and two assists in 16 minutes per game for the Aces upon returning. She still isn’t herself, and Dallas Wings CEO Greg Bibb said she may even sit out the 2019 season.

“While Moriah may ultimately decide to sit out the 2019 season, we are willing to wait for her first appearance in a Wings uniform. We believe she is an elite-level point guard and we are excited for her to join her hometown team and to be a key part of our organization for the foreseeable future,” Bibb said in the press release announcing the trade.

Harrison is a 6’3 center who took a personal medical leave of absence in the 2018 season, but had a solid 2017 showing, averaging 11 points on 50 percent shooting and six rebounds during the franchise’s final season in San Antonio. She’s solid, but she’s no Cambage.

The Wings do have plenty of young talent to develop. The group, which includes 2019 No. 5 pick Arike Ogunbowale, 2018 No. 6 pick Azura Stevens, and 2017 No. 4 pick Allisha Gray, is a coveted core which will only improve when all-star Skylar Diggins-Smith returns from the birth of her son.

But the talent received from the Cambage trade has a lot of question marks and a ceiling way lower than what Cambage brought, or even what the Sparks were prepared to provide.