WNBA teams sound off on Aces investigation: ‘We just want a level playing field’
The Aces are under scrutiny for salary cap violations.
Angel McCoughtry still has more to give to the game of basketball. At 36 years old, she’s not ready to retire. Even if the thought is there, lingering on the horizon and staring her down, riding off into the sunset is just going to have to wait.
Instead, McCoughtry is looking ahead to January, when WNBA free agency begins. And she’s intent on finding a team.
“I definitely want to go to a contender,” she says candidly. “I deserve that. But even if it’s somewhere that was not a contender before, I believe I’m the type of player that can help them become contenders.”
McCoughtry says she’s healthy and has been working to get back into game shape. And with the possibility that players will face suspensions when the WNBA’s prioritization clause goes into effect next season, there could be teams that need her veteran presence.
“She’s experienced, she’s been around championship-caliber players, she’s a gold-medal winner, she’s carried a team,” one WNBA assistant coach says of McCoughtry. “She understands her injuries have changed things, but that experience and her mindset could help.”
Rey Jefferson, McCoughtry’s agent at RSTAR Sports and Entertainment, believes she’ll have a positive impact wherever she ends up. As veteran salaries continue to increase under the WNBA’s current CBA, he expects teams will be more inclined to sign players to one- or two-year deals to fill roster needs while remaining under the salary cap.
“It gives you that flexibility to be able to hold the franchise accountable, but also keeps your options open,” Jefferson says. “For her, I think two is the sweet spot.”
McCoughtry’s 13-year pro resume speaks for itself. Drafted first overall by the Atlanta Dream in 2009, she won WNBA Rookie of the Year and has gone on to be named a five-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, two-time steals leader, seven-time All-Defense First Team member and a part of the WNBA’s 25th Anniversary Team. Add in two Olympic gold medals with Team USA and multiple championships overseas, and it’s fair to wonder what else there is for McCoughtry to accomplish on the basketball court.
“I need that riinnnnng,” she says, laughing. “I’ve been so close so many times, but I think it’s time for me to get one.”
The first time McCoughtry had a shot at a ring was in 2010. In just her second season, the Dream made it to the WNBA Finals but were swept by the Seattle Storm 3-0. Atlanta made it back to the Finals in 2011 and 2013 but again fell in three games, each time to the Minnesota Lynx. McCoughtry’s last shot came in 2020 after she signed with the Las Vegas Aces in free agency. The Aces reached the Finals for the first time in franchise history, with McCoughtry playing a pivotal role, but the series ended on a familiar note in a three-game sweep to Seattle.
It’s understandable for McCoughtry to feel that she has unfinished business. She missed the 2021 season with the Aces after tearing her ACL and meniscus in a preseason game, just two years after sitting out the 2019 season with an injury in her other knee. And last season, after she joined the Lynx in free agency, things didn’t pan out the way she had hoped.
“I’m out there practicing for two hours, and I just wasn’t ready to be practicing at that extensive moment coming back from injury,” McCoughtry says. “I think I was trying to prove that I was back and I was making myself worse, if that makes sense. And then I just think that I didn’t fit with that team. Some things are just not a fit, but there’s no hard feelings.”
McCoughtry and the Lynx parted ways just two games into the 2022 season. Minnesota bought out her contract and waived a number of other players in a tumultuous start to their season. McCoughtry and Jefferson put out feelers around the league with the hope that a contending team would scoop her up.
“Honestly, I was hurt because I thought I was just gonna go back to Vegas from the jump,” McCoughtry says. “I feel like I should have stepped up and had a conversation with A’ja (Wilson) and Coach (Becky Hammon) before the season. But I didn’t, and it just didn’t come out in a conversation, which I wish I would have done.
“But that was their moment to win a championship and move on. At the end of the day, I was definitely trying to get picked up by other teams. I had contacted (the Washington Mystics) because it was home. But since nobody picked me up, I said, well, enjoy life and have fun.”
For the rest of the summer, McCoughtry spent time traveling, training and working on her multiple business projects — from overseeing Happy Cow, her ice cream shop in Atlanta, to producing an upcoming horror movie. She also recently ventured into the tech industry, creating a website and app called PSImWithYou.com, a platform where people can leave gifts and messages for their loved ones after they pass away.
“I’m grateful because after my first injury, I had nothing to do. And it was like, I’m losing my mind,” McCoughtry says with a laugh. “ I was like, I really have to figure out what I want to do after basketball. So the first injury helped with that. The second one, I had so much to do. Matter of fact, too much.”
Part of McCoughtry’s busy schedule involved mentoring Chennedy Carter. Having spent the early part of her career in Atlanta and experiencing what she calls “a lot of mistreatment behind closed doors,” she felt a kind of kinship with Carter. The two bonded on and off the basketball court, and McCoughtry shared video clips of them playing basketball together on social media. Carter even signed with Jefferson’s agency.
“I know what it’s like when you’re alone and nobody reaches out. It’s like nobody cares,” McCoughtry says. “So I wanted to show, like, I cared. I definitely tried to help her as much as possible.”
Work don’t stop. I make my crew get tested before every work out. I don’t play.— McCoughtry (@angel_35) December 21, 2021
Few months ago I started mentoring @chennedycarter and as I have gotten to know her she is an awesome kid. Fun, energetic and eager to learn.
Expecting great things out of this young kid!! pic.twitter.com/Kk8m3CxMEu
The relationship has since fizzled out, as McCoughtry and RSTAR each recently parted ways with the young hooper.
Carter’s young career has been a bumpy one. After getting drafted fourth overall and making the WNBA All-Rookie Team with the Dream in 2020, she was suspended indefinitely the following July after a locker-room confrontation with then-teammate Courtney Williams. Carter didn’t play for Atlanta the rest of the season, and in February she was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks as part of a package deal. In what was seen as a fresh start, Carter played limited minutes under Sparks interim coach Fred Williams, and the two didn’t always appear to get along.
“She still has a long way to go,” McCoughtry says of Carter. “Sometimes, when you help people, you try to help so much that you really don’t see them wanting to help themselves after a while. You have to kind of just move on from it. … She always has my number to reach out when she’s ready to really better herself.”
The Sparks and Carter did not respond to a request for comment on her split with McCoughtry and RSTAR.
McCoughtry says she’s open to mentoring other young players, but they have to be willing to put in the work. She comes from an “old-school” basketball mentality where spending countless hours in the gym was a given, and every single minute on the court was earned.
“I think that social media shows these kids the glitz and the glam of it, and I wish they could get more of the backstories,” McCoughtry says. “That’s why I tell them, ‘Look at everybody’s backstory and how they got to where they are. You’re gonna see a lot of ups and downs.’ They just don’t see that side of it. They want the glitz and glam. And I’m like, you know what it takes for that?”
Throughout her decade-plus career in the WNBA, McCoughtry has seen younger generations of players enter the league and take it by storm. She’s also seen her fair share of evolution. Now in its 26th season, the WNBA is marketed and promoted much better than it was when she came into the league in 2009. But McCoughtry still feels there’s more work to be done, especially when it comes to sharing individual player stories. Being involved with the “We Are the W” documentary with fellow WNBA players DiDi Richards and Isabelle Harrison showed her what kind of storytelling is possible.
“I just want the league to promote everybody and what they’re doing off court. Get into what these girls are doing,” McCoughtry says. “Soon as the guys do anything — a winery, a restaurant — the NBA blasts it. I want the WNBA to start blasting what these girls are doing off court. They’re trying to be business women, you know what I mean?
“The offseason is the time to really dig into this stuff.”
As November trickles into December, McCoughtry continues to work on her businesses, projects and music. She’s also thinking about basketball and where she might want to play next season. A return to Atlanta is top of mind, but where she ends up hinges on a number of factors.
“I think that the way I had to leave was cut short with politics and a lot of mistreatment. Because I will say that when I went to Vegas, I saw what a franchise should treat their players like. It’s a true example,” McCoughtry says of her time with the Dream, in the years before co-owner Kelly Loeffler’s public rift with the players and sale of the team.
“And now that Atlanta has those kinds of people now, I think I need to get my just due on that. I think I need to be able to fill that here, where I’ve given so much.”
If she can stay on the floor, those in and around the league believe McCoughtry will add value wherever she ends up.
“Obviously when healthy she is an extraordinary talent,” says ESPN basketball analyst LaChina Robinson. “While playing in Las Vegas after her first ACL (tear), Angel was impactful because her versatility, athleticism and relentlessness are elite even when not at 100 percent.
“In the end it’s difficult to forecast Angel’s best fit because I don’t know how healthy she is, but if you’re looking for a fairytale or deserved ending to her career, Atlanta jumps off the page for me. The unfortunate part is that with an 11 or 12 player roster, WNBA players don’t often get to retire with the fairytale ending or on their own terms.”
While Jefferson has touched base with the Dream and some other teams to let them know that McCoughtry is under new representation, the real discussions will begin in January when WNBA teams can start negotiating with unrestricted free agents. From there, it comes down what the best fit is for everyone involved.
“I think for someone like Angel, the storybook ending of playing where you were first drafted, where you put a lot of your time, blood, sweat and tears, and came of age — that I feel like is definitely on her heart,” Jefferson says. “But my back and forth, as her representation, is what is the best deal I need to present to her. Because there will be options.”
Whether it’s with Atlanta or another team, McCoughtry’s primary motivation is to get back to the WNBA Finals. After coming close a handful of times, she’s still after one thing.
She wants that ring.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.
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