WNBA Free Agency: McCoughtry bets big on Aces’ title potential

United States v Louisville Angel McCoughtry shoots a free throw during the U.S. national team’s exhibition game against the Louisville Cardinals, her alma mater, on Feb. 2, 2020 at KFC YUM! Center in Kentucky. | Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After playing her entire career with the Atlanta Dream, Angel McCoughtry signed with the Las Vegas Aces in free agency with hopes of winning a championship. But do the Aces have the right pieces to make her dream come true? What does she offer this team of young stars?

Angel McCoughtry played her entire 10-year career with the Atlanta Dream. After a few Finals appearances in the 2010s failed to produce a WNBA championship — and a retooled roster under 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year Nicki Collen led the Dream to the Eastern Conference semifinals — McCoughtry, Rookie of the Year in 2009, is trying her luck in Las Vegas, with A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage (maybe) and the Aces.

McCoughtry appears stoked for the fresh opportunities Sin City will provide. But with limited activity during free agency, can the Aces help McCoughtry to a championship in 2020 as the window of her playing career nears a close? Equally important, can the Louisville product help the Aces to help her (and, of course, themselves) to the apex of professional women’s basketball?

What Angel brings to the Aces

Although the WNBA trophy has eluded McCoughtry thus far, she is no stranger to winning it all. She won gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. But in the latter part of her career she has suffered serious injuries that have thwarted her championship hopes, including the ACL tear that ended her 2018 season early and caused her to miss all but 0.1 minute of the 2019 season — a courtesy appearance approved by Collen because McCoughtry had not been cleared to play.

Any apprehension about her capabilities were squashed when she returned to basketball recently with Russia’s Dynamo Kursk during the WNBA offseason and turned in a solid performance in an exhibition for the national team against the Louisville Cardinals, her alma mater, on Feb. 2. In just under 21 minutes, McCoughtry scored 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting and joined Sylvia Fowles (16 points) and Breanna Stewart (13 points) as the three players to score in double figures for the U.S. McCoughtry also secured three rebounds, dished two assists and recorded a steal.

Beyond the box score, McCoughtry looked lithe and light on her feet, not all limited. But it could be what she contributes from the sidelines and in the locker room that makes the most difference for the Aces this year. McCoughtry is a veteran leader who should be a stabilizing force for young Aces stars Wilson and Cambage. An elite playmaker with eagle-eyed court vision, McCoughtry — an All-Star most recently in 2018 — could bring even better out of Kelsey Plum, who came alive during the 2019 playoffs with an average of 15.2 points, 7.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Does Vegas have a title-ready roster?

The Aces kicked off the 2020 free agency signing period with a bang by signing McCoughtry on Feb. 10. Since then, Atlanta, her former team, has swiped the spotlight with roster moves signaling an effort to build a “Dream Team.” Is Vegas doing enough to match Atlanta’s bold moves and those of other teams currently remixing their rosters?

Wilson, the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year, returns for the Aces in the frontcourt but free agent Cambage remains unsigned. In the backcourt, the franchise added Danielle Robinson from the Minnesota Lynx and re-signed veteran guard Sugar Rodgers. Free agents Tamera Young and Carolyn Swords also remain unsigned.

With core pieces in Plum, 2018 WNBA All-Star 3-Point Contest runner-up Kayla McBride and 2019 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby apparent to return, Vegas should have the pieces to make another strong postseason run. Whether the Aces get to the Finals, however, depends largely on whether Cambage returns and, if so, what head coach Bill Laimbeer will do to get the best out of her and Wilson when they’re on the court at the same time.

Some drop in production from the 2018 season was expected of both stars — Wilson was the sole star of the Aces’ frontcourt that year and Cambage carried the scoring load for the Dallas Wings. But each struggled in 2019 to find her place in the offense while the other was on the floor, and the ability for them to play well together should be the crux of the offense. If Cambage is re-signed and those kinks can get worked out, expect the Aces to contend ... albeit in a 2020 season that has nearly every team’s roster looking very different.

Left to be addressed in Aces’ free agency

For the first time in three years, Las Vegas does not have the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft and the team is heavy on playmaking guards right now: Plum (No. 1 pick in 2017), Rodgers, Robinson, Jackie Young (No. 1 pick in 2019) and Lindsay Allen, with a frontcourt that is looking rather thin, with forwards Wilson (No. 1 pick in 2018), Hamby, Raisa Musina (training camp contract) and JiSu Park at center. If it is a priority for Laimbeer to keep Cambage in Sin City, expect future decisions to be made around her re-signing, with future trades likely.