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Aces eyeing WNBA title as Cambage, Plum return

Updated January 31, 2021 - 6:53 pm

After a surprising 2020 season in which the Aces reached the WNBA Finals, they are looking to take the final step to a championship in 2021.

The first step begins Monday with the opening of the free-agent signing period.

The Aces, who had a league-best 18-4 record before being swept by the Seattle Storm in the finals, are in a unique position. It’s possible the two biggest additions they will make are players already on their roster — center Liz Cambage and guard Kelsey Plum.

Cambage received a medical exemption for last season because of concerns about COVID-19, while Plum missed the season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Aces designated Cambage as a core player, meaning they have exclusive negotiating rights to retain her services.

Plum is under contract and expected to make a full recovery.

“The fact that we have Kelsey and Liz coming back is quite the luxury,” Aces general manager Dan Padover said. “It’s amazing we were able to accomplish what we were without them, but they’re two huge pieces of who the Aces are.”

The Aces made a splash in free agency last year with the signing of forward Angel McCoughtry, who combined with WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson to provide much of the team’s scoring punch.

Whether they will try to go after another player of McCoughtry’s caliber this year remains to be seen, but Padover made it clear he wants first to take care of players who have been key to the organization’s success.

“The first part is retaining the talent you have on your own roster before you look outside,” Padover said. “If we see an opportunity to get an elite-level player who can help us, we have to take advantage of that opportunity. We got to the finals, but we want to win the finals. That’s our main focus.”

The Aces were dealt a blow when it was announced guard Kayla McBride had committed to sign with the Minnesota Lynx. But The Next, which covers women’s basketball, reported guard Chelsea Gray would sign with the Aces. Gray was an All-Star from 2017-19 with the Los Angeles Sparks and averaged 14 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds last season.

Guards Danielle Robinson and Sugar Rodgers, forward Cierra Burdick and center Carolyn Swords are unrestricted free agents. Padover said he couldn’t comment on individual players at this point, but a large group, including coach Bill Laimbeer, the medical staff and players, will all have input into potential additions.

“We’ve always run a very player-first organization,” Padover said. “I think it’s so important to get input from all the key stakeholders. At the end of the day, it’s a family, and you want everybody on the same page.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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