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Defending champion Aces have 1 pick in WNBA draft

For most teams, the WNBA draft is an opportunity to build and improve their roster.

College prospects, many fresh off productive outings in the NCAA Tournament, have a chance to take the next step in their careers, while teams can find young talent to build for the future.

The Aces are not one of those teams.

The WNBA draft will begin at 4 p.m. Monday at the Spring Studios in New York City. The reigning champion Aces have one pick — the last one (36th) in the third and final round.

“We’re looking forward to getting someone who can come in and compete,” general manager Natalie Williams said.

Williams traded the Aces’ 2023 first- and second-round picks to the Minnesota Lynx before the 2022 draft to acquire the No. 8 and No. 13 selections that year.

They selected Colorado guard Mya Hollingshed with the No. 8 pick and Louisiana State point guard Khayla Pointer — the niece of Aces president Nikki Fargas — at No. 13. Neither player made the team’s roster.

But Williams doesn’t regret the trade, as the Aces still marched their way to the first title in franchise history.

“We’re very happy with how everything turned out,” Williams said. “Our goal was to shut down the Strip. Winning a championship was the ultimate goal.”

Limited picks haven’t stopped the Aces from improving their roster in the offseason. They added two-time MVP Candace Parker, two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark, Australian center Cayla George and brought back starting center Kiah Stokes in free agency.

They also continued to burn draft picks, sending their 2024 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Sparks as part of their controversial trade of Dearica Hamby.

The Aces received the Sparks’ 2024 second-round pick in return, but the trade has since resulted in a league investigation into the team’s treatment of Hamby, who was pregnant at the time, and possible cost-cap circumvention by the Aces.

League sources confirmed last week that the investigation is still ongoing.

With all the offseason moves the Aces made, whoever they take at No. 36 will face an uphill battle to make the roster. Teams can carry 12 players, and many have 11 to try to stretch the limited money allowed by the salary cap.

Hollingshed was taken in the first round and still waived. She is a clear example of how difficult it can be to make a roster.

But it’s possible for a late-round pick or even an undrafted player to earn a roster spot, as former Centennial High star Sam Thomas proved by making the Phoenix Mercury last season despite going undrafted out of Arizona.

Williams said there’s someone out there who can help the Aces at No. 36. They want a player who can defend and shoot 3s — must-have qualities in coach Becky Hammon’s system.

Most important, Williams wants someone who understands the odds are stacked against them, but still challenges the team’s veteran core in training camp.

“We’re going to draft someone who likes to compete and get after it,” Williams said. “Someone who can contribute at training camp, who can come in and work their tail off.”

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

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