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The Las Vegas Aces' offense appeared unstoppable in the first 2 1/2 games of the season. And then it crashed in a seven-point third-quarter loss to the Washington Mystics on Tuesday night.
Kelsey Plum, the reigning Sixth Player of the Year, isn't blaming it solely on travel issues. The Mystics (3-0) have looked like a top team in the first six days of the season and Elena Delle Donne doesn't look like she has struggled with back injuries the past two years. But Plum is pointing out that travel impacted the situation at least a little.
Aces run into travel problems
“I think I’m the best conditioned player in this league, respectfully, and I feel like to play that type of game against Seattle (Sunday), then to get on a delayed flight for five and a half hours, fly across the country, wake up and play the next day, I mean, I was tired today."
“If you guys have ever watched me play, I can go all day. So I don’t think it’s necessarily conditioning as it’s just the setup of the schedule. I mean, let’s be real, I mean, I’m not here to blame a charter flight for the reason that we lost, but normally a team would fly out that night, and have that whole day to rest and get your legs back under you and then go play the next day. So you know those little things make a difference. Hopefully we’re on our way.”
Plum was 5-of-8 for 14 points in the first half, but went 1-of-6 in the second for four points in 35 minutes total. After shooting 57.6% in the first half, they dropped to a 25% clip in the second.
The Aces (2-1) hosted the Storm on Sunday night in Las Vegas in a game that was pushed back to a 7 p.m. local time tip for ESPN2's window. They then couldn't use those evening Sunday hours as a getaway day and ended up traveling all day Monday. Aces general manager Natalie Williams said on Twitter it was a 12-hour trip in total. There were more problems with the team bus, forcing players to take ride-shares to the hotel, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The crew is typically up for fit checks, but didn't look enthused going into the arena.
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 10, 2022
The travel issue hit the Mystics as well. Starting point guard Natasha Cloud was ruled out while in COVID-19 protocols earlier in the day. Cloud blamed flying commercial without a mask mandate for contracting the virus after the team flew back home from Minneapolis after Sunday's game. A condensed schedule and a summer-long season of flying with hundreds of others might only make the travel issue worse.
WNBA and charter flights
Williams, the Aces GM, went on Twitter early Wednesday to raise noise. "If it costs $20M to fly all WNBA teams charter for a season, what 20 millionaires can we get to donate to the cause?" she asked with tags for Elon Musk, LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, Delta and Nike.
She need look no further than Aces owner Mark Davis. But his hands are tied in this realm. The issue around charter flights versus commercial hit a peak in March when reports surfaced that the New York Liberty and their deep-pocketed owner, Joseph Tsai, were fined $500,000 for secretly using charter flights at the backend of the season.
There are millionaire owners buying into the league who want to treat it as the professional league it is, but who are largely bound by the collective bargaining agreement. Davis has spoken about this over the past few months after he hired Becky Hammon as head coach with an annual salary at more than $1 million. It torqued a lot of people since the hard salary cap for his entire team is around $1.3 million. Davis himself agreed with the complaints.
“As much as we can do for these women and this game, I’m all for it,” Davis told The Athletic recently. “Those are the kind of the things — the investment that we’re making into the league and into the team — that I don’t see us getting back. But it’s all part of the vision and the passion for doing this. … We need sponsors and people to support this and people to say, ‘I believe in it, and I want to be a part of this as we grow.’ That’s what we’re trying to do now.”
Williams' comments were met with responses of "this is not a charity," a line two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker told reporters at a roundtable during Final Four weekend. Players have said they want investment to grow the game, rather than one-time donations as if they were a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Viewership is up, merchandise sells out and people are talking about the W. But right now they're talking about a missing point guard who might have contracted a virus on a plane and a team that struggled in the second half of a fantastic matchup after a full travel day. And it isn't the first time the Aces have been in that position.