By Dorothy J. Gentry
Life without the dynamic duo staring them in their collective faces, the Dallas Wings are looking toward the future and focused on building something new.
The dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith set the WNBA on fire last season and formed one of the League’s most exciting and efficient combinations, finishing their season with a collective 40.9 points per game, making them the second-highest scoring duo in the league. The two All-stars were also named to the 2018 First and Second All-WNBA teams.
However, shortly before the playoffs, Cambage announced she was “unsure” about returning to the League and not too long after the season ended in the first round of the playoffs against the Phoenix Mercury (101-83), Diggins-Smith announced she and her husband were expecting their first child.
Just last week, Cambage apparently decided to return to the League, yet stunned again, this time announcing instead her desire to play elsewhere in the WNBA during the 2019 season. The Wings sent out a statement that read in part: “While Liz is currently under contract with the Dallas Wings, we will work to resolve this issue while keeping the interest of our organization the priority.”
No doubt this is all influencing the make-up of the roster but new Head Coach Brian Agler has a singular vision for his team that supersedes whose name appears on the line-up: “We need to establish an identity and culture. It doesn’t matter who’s here. That has to be established,” he said. “We still have to develop those two things so that will be the focus.”
Agler continued, “We don’t know the timing of Skylar and when she will return. The main thing is to focus on herself and her family and her new baby.
“There is no timetable there for her return. It is open-ended,” he said.
Regarding Cambage, Agler said “She expressed to us that she wanted to leave. We have two responses: to accommodate her and then help our team as much as possible.
“If she doesn’t want to play in Dallas, we will help her get somewhere else,” he said, adding that although they still have her rights, they are “in contact with multiple teams” about Cambage, none of which he would name.
With this change in the roster and make-up of one of last season’s youngest and most exciting teams, questions abound for the franchise: Who will emerge as the leader? Who will gain more minutes? Who is going to be depended upon offensively? What will be the defensive identity of the team?
The Wings – who finished with a 15-19 record last year and a first-round playoff exit – certainly still have a plethora of polished, exciting players who are poised to take the next step and help lead the team to its first Championship – including fan favorite Kayla Thornton, 2016 WNBA Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray, Veteran leader Theresa Plaisance, All-Star Glory Johnson – who is a League Core player – and last year’s #6 draft pick Azura Stevens who was named to the 2018 WNBA All-Rookie Team.
“As far as minutes, leadership and more, everything will be earned in training camp – playing time, roles, how we set the tone, establish a certain culture, etc.,” Agler said. “A lot will be played out there. (in camp).
“I want to develop a couple of defensive stoppers. Offensively we will rely on the same people who have stepped up in the past. We may run a different type of offense, make some improvements defensively.
“But what happens with players for the season is based on their desire and hunger to improve.”
Agler said he has talked with the current players on the Wings roster and “everyone seems really positive, excited about training camp coming up. It will be an unknown for everyone involved. We will have to hit the ground running, establish a team culture and be ready to go.”
Roster additions will also be made through the April draft and free agency which begins tomorrow. “Of course we will draft a player that fits some needs of ours,” Agler said. “And we are always open to drafting the best player available in general. But we need more ball handlers, 1, 2 type players.
“And depending upon how the situation with Liz goes, we can address some things there with the draft.”
Look for the Wings to take a watch, wait and see approach during free agency. “We don’t at the moment have a lot of room with so many players under contract,” he said. “But there are several players we would have interest in,” he said, declining to name names.
One top free agent that fans would love to see return is Karima Christmas-Kelly who is an unrestricted free agent. Christmas-Kelly played the first six games of last season before being sidelined by season-ending knee surgery. She returned and spent the remainder of the season on the sidelines serving as unofficial coach and cheerleader.
“I spoke with her a couple of times. We don’t have her rights so she is open to going to any team,” Agler said. “We would love to have Karima back on our roster but a lot depends on her expectations as far as salary, etc.”
This is both a bittersweet and exciting time for the franchise as they brace for the fallout from losing a key member of last year’s squad but continuing looking upward and gearing up for what could be its most exciting season yet.