Liz Cambage trade grades: Aces make leap into title contention after acquiring 2018 WNBA MVP runner-up

After months of rumors and speculation, 2018 WNBA MVP runner-up Liz Cambage is officially on the move. 

Late on Thursday morning, the Dallas Wings announced that they had traded Cambage to the Las Vegas Aces in exchange for Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison and the Aces' first- and second-round picks in 2020. 

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, Cambage was reluctant to come over from Australia to play for the then-Tulsa Shock, and ended up spending just two seasons with the team. After the 2013 campaign, she returned home and spent time playing in both Australia and China. 

But last season she made her return, signing a multi-year contract with the now-Dallas Wings, who still had her rights. She was an instant success, establishing herself as one of the best players in the league from Day One. She led the league in scoring, finished top-five in rebounding and blocks, set a new WNBA single-game scoring record with 53 points and finished runner-up to Breanna Stewart in the MVP race. 

During the offseason, however, she grew disinterested in Dallas and requested a trade. At first, it seemed she was only interested in playing for the Los Angeles Sparks, and was reportedly willing to sit out the season and return to Australia if she didn't get her wish. But the Sparks instead traded for Chiney Ogwumike, which pretty much took them out of the Cambage sweepstakes. 

At some point, Cambage then made it clear she would be willing to play for the Aces, and the rest is history. She'll now join one of the youngest, most exciting teams in the league and form a dynamic frontcourt partnership with last season's Rookie of the Year, A'ja Wilson. 

Trade grades

Las Vegas Aces

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  • Liz Cambage

No matter how you look at this trade, it's a tremendous success for the Aces. They acquired one of the best players in the league, didn't give up any key pieces of their core or lose significant production from last season, and are now a title contender in a wide open season. 

All along, it seemed Cambage would either play for the Sparks or sit out this season. Something changed in the past few weeks though, and the Aces swooped in to complete the trade and add an MVP caliber player to their young, exciting squad. 

A true center, Cambage's size and skill make her one of the most dominant interior presences the league has ever seen. Save for Brittney Griner in Phoenix and Sylvia Fowles in Minnesota, there is no one in the league who can match-up with her, which is why she led the league in scoring at 23 points per game, shot 66 percent inside the paint and was fouled on over 20 percent of her offensive possessions. 

There may be a few growing pains in the first few weeks as head coach Bill Laimbeer figures out the best way to pair her with A'ja Wilson, who also established herself as a strong interior scorer in her rookie season. But with how much talent that duo has, they should be able to make it work. Cambage is a strong passer and Wilson showed off a solid dribble-drive game out of the high-post last season, so they may be able to develop a nice high-low game. Plus they'll have elite shooters like Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum spacing the floor. 

And that's just when they're on the floor together. Laimbeer could -- and probably should -- stagger them a la Chris Paul and James Harden for the Houston Rockets, ensuring that he has an elite big on the floor at pretty much all times. 

Meanwhile, the Aces gave up very little to get Cambage, making the move even better for them. Moriah Jefferson and Isabelle Harrison are both solid young players, but Jefferson has been injury prone and has only played 37 games the past two seasons combined. Plus, after drafting Jackie Young with the No. 1 overall pick, the Aces were going to face a roster crunch at point guard anyway. Harrison, meanwhile, didn't play for the Aces at all last season. As for the two picks, if things go to plan this season, the best of those assets will be a late first-round pick. 

Neither Jefferson nor Harrison figured to be key parts of their core moving forward, which was important considering the very real possibility that Cambage doesn't stick around in Las Vegas long-term. She's made it clear that she's not happy with how WNBA players are paid and treated, and has already left the league once for five years. With the 2020 Olympics coming up next summer, and her contract expiring at the end of this season, this may be the last we see of Cambage for a while. 

Even so, this was a trade the Aces should have made 100 times out of 100. It was a no-brainer to get one of the best players in the league for such a small return and make an immediate jump to contender status. The title race was blown wide open after Breanna Stewart's torn Achilles, and the Aces now have to be considered among the favorites. 

Grade: A+

Dallas Wings

Receive:

  • Moriah Jefferson
  • Isabelle Harrison
  • 2020 first-round pick
  • 2020 second-round pick

This trade package is pretty weak for one of the best players in the league, but the Wings were in a really tough spot here. Once Cambage's trade request went public, and her specific demands were made known, they had zero leverage. No one knows how much longer Cambage will end up playing in the WNBA, but one thing that was certain was she was never wearing a Wings uniform again. 

At that point, they needed to just get something, anything in return. Losing Cambage after she was back for one season is a bummer, but not getting anything in return would have been even worse. Considering the options that were available after the Sparks decided to reunite the Ogwumike sisters instead, this isn't too bad. 

A shifty, hyper-quick point guard Jefferson can really play, and will be a nice addition to their backcourt, where they've struggled to find depth behind Skylar Diggins-Smith for a few seasons. The only problem is her inability to stay healthy. She's missed 31 games in the last two seasons and there are rumors swirling that she may take this season off entirely. Whenever she does get on the court though, she'll be a helpful player. 

As for Harrison, she showed a lot of promise in 2017 before sitting out last season on medical leave. An athletic, versatile forward, she's also coming off a strong season overseas for USK Praha, helping the Czech side to the EuroLeague Women final four. Harrison may not be the most well-known player, but this is a nice pick-up for head coach Brian Agler and the Wings. 

It remains to be seen how the Aces do this season, but assuming they join the ranks of title contenders, the two picks will be at the back end of their respective rounds. Still, it doesn't hurt for the Wings to secure as many draft picks as possible. The Cambage deal has forced them into a bit of a rebuild, and they'll need as much young talent as they can find. 

The bigger lament for the Wings here is not the trade itself, but how quickly the Cambage reunion went off the rails. After five years they finally convinced one of the best players in the world to return to the WNBA, and had their sights set on a bright future with her and Diggins-Smith. Then in the next year they fired Freddy Williams -- the head coach who was instrumental in getting Cambage to come back -- stumbled backwards into the playoffs, were bounced in the first round and had to trade Cambage for pennies on the dollar. 

Grade: D

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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