The reigning champion Las Vegas Aces are in hot water with the WNBA for allegedly making under-the-table payment offers to both current players and free agents, according to a report by Howard Megdal of The Next on Wednesday.
“The WNBA is currently conducting an investigation involving the Las Vegas Aces in connection with allegations raised in a recent social media post by Dearica Hamby,” the league said in a statement.
Per the report, the Aces allegedly arranged for players to be paid outside of their normal salary by another company in exchange for negligible work.
Basically, the team is accused of breaking league rules by finding additional ways to pay players more money off the books. That would help them to stack a superteam filled with four of last year's All-Star starters (not including the Finals MVP).
No players were specifically named in the report. The team signed Candace Parker at a significant discount ($100,000 per HerHoopsStats), as well as Alysha Clark ($110,000) this offseason. The team also issued contract extensions to five of its star players in A'ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Dearica Hamby, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum in 2022.
Hamby is also accusing the franchise of manipulation and discrimination after she was traded this offseason months after announcing her pregnancy. The WNBA is also investigating this claim.
The WNBA operates under a hard cap system, which means every team in the league can spend the same amount of money on its players' contracts. This year, the cap is just about $1.4 million for, at most, a 12-player roster.
General managers of opposing teams and the league itself would argue that teams that ignore those rules and pay players extra money off the books hurt competitive balance.
In fact, the Minnesota Lynx's head coach Cheryl Reeve and Atlanta Dream majority owner Larry Gottesdiener said so publicly on Wednesday.
In the NBA, which operates under a soft cap system, teams with owners who are willing to spend above and beyond are able to pay a "luxury tax" — which comes with its own set of restrictions — to go over the salary cap.
That's how the Warriors were able to add Kevin Durant to their superteam while retaining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green once upon a time. This can not be done in the WNBA — legally.
While the Aces deserve swift and harsh punishment should they be found guilty of under-the-table payments, we've reached a new point in the WNBA's 27-year history — where teams are paying players too much money.
For as long as the league has been in existence, there's been a need to raise players' salaries, and more recently, a push for chartered flights.
Now we have proof of one owner willing to charter his team's flights, and allegations of another paying players money outside of what the framework of the league's collective bargaining agreement allows.
That pushes forward the notion: is it time for the WNBA to expand its provisions? And another: are all of the league's owners ready to pay up and commit financially in the ways New York and Las Vegas have?
In the piece, Megdal of The Next cites a league source who says, “That was the best $500,000 [Liberty owner] Joe Tsai ever spent” in reference to the time the Liberty chartered flights.
This offseason, 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones forced a trade to New York, and 2020 MVP Breanna Stewart and 2021 champion Courtney Vandersloot both signed there — with discounts — as free agents.
As previously mentioned, arguably the best player AND one of the best point guards in the league just took a discount to sign with the Liberty — coincidentally hours after the Aces allegations were released.
Dream owner Gottesdiener tweeted "Interesting timing."
As of Feb. 8 at 6 pm ET, the Liberty are not known to be accused of any wrongdoings.
It's another good question, and a peculiar one as the majority of players are asking for better pay but some are rejecting the maximum amount they're owed in the same breath.
In this instance, Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot are all good enough to command maximum payment, but are seemingly accepting less to help build a better team around them and chase for a championship ring.
It's their prerogative to do so, though it is certain to be brought up in future negotiations.
If the league concludes its investigation (the timeline and who exactly is involved, for now, remain unclear) it'll have to place a severe punishment on the franchise. When the league penalized the New York Liberty franchise for chartering flights, it silently fined them $500,000.
It's unclear if a punishment here would involve a harsher financial penalty or the voiding of any contracts. As stated in The Next's piece, the voiding of a player's contract would also punish the player, which feels undesirable. But nothing is off the table.