Las Vegas, NV

The Aces, the Bay and the NBA: The WNBA right now

Clay Kallam

Las Vegas wins (or New York loses, depending on your point of view).

The NBA coaching pipeline is widening.

The Bay Area finally gets a franchise.

Yes, it’s been a busy few weeks for the WNBA, and worth a closer look.

The Golden State, um, somethings: First things first in the Bay Area – Joe Lacob pulled the trigger, at last, and will bring a team to Chase Center in 2025.

Lacob, I’ve always believed, wanted a relocation (Indiana or Atlanta) but it when became clear those franchises were not moving, he settled for what will be a dismal expansion team. The hard salary cap, the shallow talent pool and restrictive draft rules, both from existing teams and college, will make it hard for the Golden State TBAs to compete the first couple of years.

So that means the big news will be the mascot, or nickname, or whatever. There are no obvious options, unless Lacob gets Jeff Bezos to buy in on the Golden State Amazons. The secondary news will be fans trying to figure out if it’s worth it to endure the hassles and expense of getting to and enjoying the Chase Center to watch what will be a pretty mediocre product – at best.

Local girl Haley Jones might wind up on the roster, though, and if she ever learns to shoot a three (she’s been working on it since her sophomore year at Archbishop Mitty), she could be a very good player. Given how the expansion draft is likely to work – especially if Portland also gets a team in 2025 – rolling the dice on unproven players is the only path forward.

Becky Hammon embarrasses Sandy Brondello: OK, most people say that the Aces beat the Liberty, and you couldn’t escape the chatter about how Hammon and Brondello are both former WNBA players.

But what didn’t get mentioned much was that Hammon learned to coach in the hard school of the NBA, working her way up from virtue-signaling hire to one of Greg Popovich’s most trusted assistants. But Hammon reached the roundball ceiling in the NBA and when she realized she would never get a head-coaching job in a league filled with sexist players, she took the money in Las Vegas.

And then proceeded to give WNBA lifer Brondello a trip to the coaching woodshed in the Finals. The last game, and the last play, were especially telling, as Brondello couldn’t figure out a way to beat the depth-challenged Aces even when they were missing two starters, one of whom was the Finals’ MVP the year before.

Congrats, of course, to Jackie Young (who found a three-pointer), Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and the brilliant A’ja Wilson (Alyssa Thomas is still my MVP, though), who executed Hammon’s strategies perfectly and justifiably can enjoy discussions of dynasty.

Respect at last: First, a digression. In the wonderful movie about backup singers called “20 Feet from Stardom,” Bruce Springsteen is asked about the move from complementary contributor to star of the show. On stage, it’s about 20 feet from sideshow to spotlight; in basketball, the distance is even shorter.

Springsteen said simply, “It’s a long walk.”

NBA teams always have to wonder whether that brilliant assistant can make that long walk to the head coach’s office, but now, as Hammon has shown, and new Phoenix Mercury hire Nate Tibbetts will try to show, there’s a way to prove yourself at a very high level.

WNBA basketball is serious professional basketball. These are the best female players in the world, and they are hardened professionals with big egos with careers that will net them millions and millions of dollars. Sure, Hammon can coach circles around someone like Brondello, but Tibbetts? Who knows?

And Tibbetts won’t be the last to make the jump. Due to the hard salary cap, and other restrictions, the only way big-spending owners can create advantages for their teams is by paying coaches exorbitant salaries – and if you think Lacob isn’t looking right now, you’re ignoring his history.

It works the other way too, as James Wade parlayed his WNBA championship in Chicago into an NBA job with the Toronto Raptors, and all of this just goes to show how the WNBA has matured into a respected, competitive league that has a lot to offer to fans, coaches and players.

And it’s about time the Bay Area finally gets to see it in person.


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Photo by(Kylie O'Sullivan/Unsplash)


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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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