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Aces lose draft pick, Hammon suspended 2 games after probe

Updated May 16, 2023 - 5:20 pm

Following a months-long investigation into alleged violations of WNBA policy, the league on Tuesday announced its punishments for the defending champion Aces.

Aces coach Becky Hammon was suspended for two games without pay for violating league and team workplace policies. The WNBA also rescinded the team’s 2025 first-round draft pick after finding the Aces violated rules about impermissible player benefits.

After the ruling, the Aces canceled their planned post-practice media availability but released a statement later in the day. Aces owner Mark Davis could not be reached for comment.

“The Las Vegas Aces are deeply disappointed by the outcome of the WNBA investigation,” the team said in a release. “We are committed to supporting all our players to the fullest extent allowed by the WNBA. Our actions have always been consistent with our responsibility to hold ourselves to the highest professional standards, and the facts we presented were consistent with these standards.

“The well-being of our players and their families has and will always be at the forefront of who we are.”

In a release, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert said, “The Aces failed to adhere to league rules and regulations and have been disciplined accordingly.”

The Aces had been under investigation since Jan. 21 following the decision to trade two-time All-Star and two-time Sixth Player of the Year Dearica Hamby to the Los Angeles Sparks. Hamby published a statement alleging the organization had bullied and discriminated against her because of her recent pregnancy.

“The unprofessional and unethical way that I have been treated has been traumatizing,” Hamby wrote on her social media platforms after being traded. “To be treated this way by an organization, by women who are mothers, who have claimed to ‘be in these shoes,’ who preach family, chemistry and women’s empowerment, is disappointing and leaves me sick to my stomach.”

Hamby spoke to reporters Tuesday during the Sparks media availability. She mentioned how in the immediate aftermath of the trade, her daughter, Amaya, asked if she’d been traded because of her newborn son, Legend, which made Hamby cry.

Now though, the two-time All-Star said her son is healthy, she’s healthy, she’s happy and ready for the season to begin.

“I just want to focus on moving forward,” she told reporters. “This part of it’s over. And then me and the union will continue to explore my options.”

Hammon’s suspension stems from comments she made to Hamby following the player’s pregnancy, according to the league’s release, which did not reveal her specific comments.

The Aces’ statement voiced the organization’s continued support of Hammon, saying the WNBA’s findings “are inconsistent with what we know and love about her.”

“Becky is a caring human being who forges close personal relationships with her players,” the statement said. “We stand behind Coach Hammon as she continues to lead the Las Vegas Aces.”

In Hamby’s statement after the trade on Jan. 21, she wrote she was told she was “a question mark” and that “I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.” She also wrote that after revealing she hadn’t planned her pregnancy, she was told she “was not taking precautions to not get pregnant.”

Hammon will miss the team’s season-opening games on the road against the Seattle Storm on Saturday and one against Hamby’s new team, the Sparks, on May 25.

A team spokesperson told the Review-Journal assistant Tyler Marsh will serve as the interim coach against Seattle, while assistant Natalie Nakase will be the interim in Los Angeles. Hammon’s first game back will be May 27 against the Sparks at Michelob Ultra Arena.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association also released a statement Tuesday. The players’ union criticized the league’s decision, saying it did not go far enough in punishing the Aces.

The WNBPA concluded by saying it will continue to support Hamby as she takes the league’s decisions into account and explores all available remedies.

“Incidents of conduct by a team or team staff cannot always be compared,” the WNBPA said. “But recent penalties imposed by the league and an honest view of the facts demonstrate this penalty is far from appropriate.”

The league’s investigation included interviews with 33 people and a review of text messages, emails and other documents. The Aces’ loss of a first-round pick was for salary cap circumvention connected to negotiations on Hamby’s contract extension, which she signed June 29, 2022.

The Aces had their 2025 first-round pick rescinded rather than their 2024 first-round pick because they traded the 2024 pick to the Sparks along with Hamby for the rights to center Amanda Zahui B. and a 2024 second-round pick.

According to the league’s release, several people also raised concerns about the Aces’ recent offseason acquisitions, which included two-time MVP Candace Parker and two-time champion Alysha Clark. However, the investigation did not substantiate those worries.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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