The Las Vegas Aces were without Candace Parker for the second half of the season, lost star point guard Chelsea Gray and starting center Kiah Stokes to foot injuries in Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals and trailed by 12 in the second half of Game 4 on the road, yet still found a way to defeat the New York Liberty and.
In the aftermath of their historic accomplishment, it's fair to wonder if the Aces can win a title under those circumstances, what's stopping them from three-peating?
On paper, nothing.
For starters, they have the best player in the world in A'ja Wilson. That crown was up for grabs this season, and Breanna Stewart held it briefly after winning MVP.. Nothing made that more clear than the title-deciding Game 4, when Wilson went off for 24 points and 16 rebounds, while Stewart bricked open look after open look en route to a 3-of-17 performance.
When you have the best player, you always have a chance.
Moving on down the line, the Aces' entire core is locked in for next season. Wilson is signed through 2025, while Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young are all under contract for next season. This quartet has already won two titles together, and along the way, all of them have been All-Stars and All-WNBA performers.
Between them, they can deliver everything you need on a basketball court: interior scoring, off-the-dribble creation, pick-and-roll brilliance, 3-point shooting, free throw attempts, sharing and taking care of the ball, individual defense both inside and out, team defense, togetherness, hard work, durability. You can go on and on. They know how to play together, they genuinely care about one another and they've proven multiple times that they can win it all.
On the sidelines, they have the best coach in the league leading the way. The Aces had been to the semifinals three seasons in a row from 2019-2021, winning 70% of their games along the way, with largely the same key players. But they didn't break through and win a title until Becky Hammon showed up last season and transformed their offense and culture.
She won Coach of the Year in 2022, and became the first rookie coach in WNBA history to win a title. Then she came right back and helped the Aces do it again. The list of coaches to lead their team to back-to-back championships is short: Van Chancellor, Michael Cooper and now Hammon. And just like the Aces' core, Hammon is tied down for the near future after signing a five-year deal in 2022.
Off the court, they have max cap space heading into free agency. Will they use that to re-sign? Or will they look elsewhere? There are some true superstars hitting the market this offseason, including Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner, Jonquel Jones, Nneka Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart, as well as a number of All-Star calibert players, such as Ariel Atkins, DeWanna Bonner, Brionna Jones and Chiney Ogwumike.
Not all of those players make sense once you consider their own situations and the Aces' positional needs -- targeting a big makes much more sense than a guard, for example -- but it gives you a sense of the talent that's available. The Aces could easily have an even better roster next season, which is a frightening thought for the rest of the league.
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Finally, you have to consider their competition. Barring some shock moves in the offseason, the only team with a chance to compete against them next season is the Liberty. No one else even came close to challenging the Aces this summer, as they cruised to a record-setting 34-6 record and an 8-1 mark in the playoffs. But even the Liberty, who were the only team to beat the Aces multiple times this season, folded when the stakes were raised. Furthermore, the Liberty have some work to do this winter with Jones, Stewart and Stefanie Dolson hitting free agency, and Marine Johannes' status for 2024 up in the air.
None of this guarantees an Aces title. There's a reason they were the first team to repeat in over two decades and the only team to win three in a row is the Houston Comets, who, while an incredible team, were playing in a totally different era. On paper, though, everything is all lined up for the Aces, who will enter next season as heavy favorites.
They've already made so much history, why can't they make more?