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Liz Cambage’s Sparks exit explained: Where do both sides go from here?

(Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Amid rumors that Liz Cambage “quit” the team after playing 24 games in Los Angeles, she and the Sparks have agreed to a “contract divorce,” the team announced Tuesday.

“It is with support that we share Liz Cambage’s decision to terminate her contract with the organization,” said Sparks Managing Partner Eric Holoman. “We want what’s best for Liz and have agreed to part ways amicably. The Sparks remain excited about our core group and are focused on our run towards a 2022 playoff berth.”

According to a Yahoo Sports report, Cambage exited the locker room after her team’s 84-66 loss to the Aces, her former squad, and left the team with a parting message: “I can’t do this anymore. Best of luck to you guys.”

Cambage is not the first to go through a contract divorce this season. It’s a term WNBA fans have heard four other times in 2022. The most significant, and most recent, was that of eight-time All-Star Tina Charles, who departed the Mercury on June 25 before joining the Storm. Angel McCoughtry (Lynx), Jantel Lavender (Fever) and Bria Hartley (Fever) have also negotiated contract divorces from their respective teams.

Here’s Cambage’s situation, explained.

What is a contract divorce?

A contract divorce is pretty much what it sounds like. The two parties — in this case, Cambage and the Sparks — agree to terminate their legally binding agreement in a way in which both sides benefit. Essentially, it’s a fancy term for a buyout.

Cambage, who signed a one-year, $170,000 deal with the Sparks in February, reportedly agreed to $141,386 in exchange for the contract divorce. That figure reflects the per-game rate of the 25 games she played for the Sparks this season.

The Sparks’ chemistry issues have been building all season, according to multiple reports. While a preseason of heightened expectations turned into lackluster performances, the sixth-place Sparks remain in the playoff hunt at 12-15 with nine games to play. The team clearly feels it will no longer benefit from Cambage’s services, and the 30-year-old no longer wishes to play for L.A.

What does it mean for the Sparks?

Beyond what was going on behind the scenes and in conversations and body language on the court, the 6-foot-8 center was making an impact on the Sparks’ box score. She was L.A.’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 13 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Defensively, she led the Sparks with 1.6 blocks per contest.

Without Cambage, the Sparks will need to find someone — or more than likely, a combination of people — to replace her 24.5 minutes per game. At first glance, losing Cambage’s on-court abilities isn’t ideal for the playoff hopeful Sparks. But chemistry issues among players have a way of coming out in high-pressure situations. Replacing Cambage won’t be easy, but it’s better to part ways now than to wait and have the team fall apart in the postseason. At least this way, the Sparks have time to figure out a solution.

As it stands, their options at the post position are limited. After Nneka Ogwumike, who at 18.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game is likely maxed out in terms of production, the Sparks have four forwards/centers listed on their roster. One is Katie Lou Samuelson, who is more of a guard. They will likely turn to Chiney Ogwumike, who out of the remaining forwards plays the most minutes (18.5) and has the highest production (7.5 points). After her, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Jasmine Walker combine to average 4.2 points per game.

Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike will likely have to step up even more in Cambage's absence. (Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

To make matters worse, Cambage’s departure isn’t the only dramatic exit the Sparks have endured in recent years.

In 2021, both Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray left the team as free agents, with Parker signing with the Sky and Gray with the Aces. Losing a player in free agency isn’t as dramatic as a contract divorce, of course, but it begs the question: “How did L.A. lose not one, but two top talents to other teams?”

It wasn’t a good look for the Sparks, and led to continued questions about coach and GM Derek Fisher’s leadership. Those questions came to a head on June 7 when he was let go.

There’s also the issue of Chennedy Carter, who signed with the Sparks in free agency after a contentious 2021 season with the Dream. Despite internal opposition to the move, as The Athletic has reported, Fisher pushed for the Sparks to trade for Carter. The guard, after not playing the second half of last season while suspended, has averaged just 15.3 minutes across 19 games for Los Angeles this year.

The Sparks, despite all the turmoil, are somehow still in the playoff hunt. The best they can do at this point is muddle through the rest of the season, hope for a playoff berth and then get to work on a total rebuild in the offseason.

What does it mean for Liz Cambage?

This isn’t the first time Cambage has been embroiled in controversy. Most recently she had a messy exit from the Opals, Australia’s women’s national team. In November, Cambage was reprimanded for an on-court altercation during a practice game with Nigeria. She then withdrew from the Tokyo Olympic team, citing mental health concerns and eventually said on Instagram that she would never play for the team again.

The exact details of the altercation are unknown, with plenty of rumors swirling. But former Opals teammate Jenna O’Hea confirmed to Australian journalist Kelli Underwood in May that Cambage had told Nigerian players to “go back to your third world country.”

Cambage denies the claim.

It’s not a stretch to see the connections between Cambage’s supposed comments about Nigeria and her exit from the Sparks. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, two of her LA teammates, are Nigerian and seeking to play for the Nigerian national team.

It’s also not a stretch to say that we may not see Cambage in the WNBA again.

After Cambage’s rookie season with the Tulsa Shock in 2011, she left the WNBA for four seasons because she didn’t want to play for the franchise. Her exit from Tulsa started in 2012, when Cambage said she would sit out the rest of the season following the Olympics due to exhaustion. She did not return to Tulsa, instead choosing to sign with a team in China.

It’s worth noting that Cambage has not played more than one consecutive season with any WNBA squad since being drafted in 2011, a tenure that included stops in Dallas and Las Vegas. With her latest departure, Cambage may no longer be a risk teams are willing to take.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

KC Current GM Camille Ashton Resigns

KC Current GM Camille Ashton
Former KC Current GM Camille Ashton left the undefeated organization early this week. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton has resigned, the club announced Wednesday.

The staffing shakeup comes as somewhat of a surprise after the Current started off the season undefeated under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski, sitting second in the NWSL standings through 10 games.

No further details were given about her departure, other than that the club "wishes her the best in her future endeavors."

"I am thankful for my time in Kansas City," Ashton said in a team statement. "It was important to me to dedicate my time and efforts to ensure a successful 2024 season by building the championship-caliber roster that's currently near the top of the table. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. I look forward to the next step in my personal and professional journey."

Ashton, who played in the league from 2014-17, helped rebuild the Current roster, including picking up then-free agent Debinha in 2023 — the biggest free agency signing of that offseason. This past offseason, she brought in international players Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto

But the club has also encountered some rough patches throughout Ashton's tenure. Following her daughter's dismissal from the Current last year, mother of 2023 draft pick Mykiaa Minniss also accused the club of mistreatment during the preseason. While both the league and NWSL Players Association looked into the comments, no formal reprimand or consequences were publicly issued.

Players like Lynn Williams, Alex Loera, and Cece Kizer voiced concerns over what they described as unexpected trades, with Kizer adding that there was "no conversation this could happen." Williams, meanwhile, was informed of her trade moments prior to its execution while she was in New Zealand with the USWNT.

"There could be a lot of debate about that on its own, but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league," Ashton told reporters earlier this year when quested about the Current's player trade procedures.

While the club made an NWSL championship appearance in 2022 — the year Ashton came on as general manager — the 2023 season kicked off with the team firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season and hours before a road game. 

At the time, the club cited "issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities" as the reasoning, though players were reportedly confused with the decision making.

Last October, the Current hired former UWSNT coach Vlatko Andonovski as head coach, in addition to giving him the title of "sporting director." Whether or not that role overlapped with Ashton’s responsibilities as general manager was cause for some speculation.

NWSL Honors UWSNT Great Lauren Holiday With Impact Award

Lauren Holiday at nwsl impact award event
USWNT legend Lauren Holiday has long been involved with social activism off the pitch. (NWSL)

The NWSL announced today that the annual civically focused Nationwide Community Impact Award would now be known as the Lauren Holiday Award in honor of the National Soccer Hall of Famer.

Since 2021, the award has recognized one NWSL player each season for their character and contributions to community service off the pitch, according to a league release. The winner of the newly retitled award receives $30,000 toward a charitable organization of their choice.

"The NWSL is proud to honor Lauren Holiday as the namesake of this award recognizing exemplary athletes and their commitment to service and activism," said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. "Lauren’s influential work in the community and her outstanding character both on and off the field epitomize the values we look to uphold and celebrate in the NWSL every day. 

"I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition than Lauren and look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this program has on our clubs and communities with her example guiding our efforts."

In a statement, Holiday said that throughout her career she has always "believed in the power of giving back and creating positive change." A two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup winner, and former NWSL MVP, Holiday founded the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund alongside husband and fellow professional athlete JRue Holiday.

The fund contributes to programs that combat systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Holiday has also long been an advocate for legislation to help close the racial inequality gap in maternal health.

"This award is a testament to the important work that athletes are doing to strengthen and uplift their communities every day and I am deeply humbled to take on its namesake," Holiday said. "I hope it inspires others to continue their efforts in making a lasting impact on the lives of those around them."

Waylaid Seattle Rookie Nika Mühl Makes WNBA Debut

seattle storm's nika muhl guarding indiana fever's caitlin clark
Mühl spent her first few pro minutes repeating her college assignment: guarding Caitlin Clark.(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

WNBA Confirms Toronto Expansion Team for 2026

Fans at a game between the Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx in Toronto
Canadian fans asked and the WNBA delivered: Toronto's getting a team. (Jordan Jones/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA is officially expanding to Toronto, with the league announcing its 14th franchise early Thursday. 

Kilmer Sports Ventures has been awarded the team, said WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert at a press conference attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and others. 

"Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform," Engelbert told the Associated Press ahead of the official announcement. "It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too."

The CBC was the first to report on the expansion franchise back on May 10th. 

With the Golden State Valkyries set to begin play next year, the Toronto franchise will begin play in 2026. The goal, per the WNBA, is to then add two more franchises by 2028 for a total of 16. 

Toronto will play at Coca-Cola Coliseum, which holds 8,700 seats. On occasion, the team will play games in Scotiabank Arena. The WNBA has previously hosted sold-out preseason games at Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place. There are also plans to play games in Vancouver and Montreal, according to majority owner Larry Tanenbaum. 

This will be the first WNBA franchise outside of the United States, and joins PWHL Toronto as just the second professional women’s sports team in the city.

"Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving but, we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports," Tanenbaum told the AP. "The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. 

"I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history."

Similar to Golden State, the Toronto franchise paid a $50 million expansion fee. They’ve also committed to building a dedicated practice facility, but will train at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport in the meantime. 

"Women’s sports is good business," Tanenbaum said. "Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement and it’s just the beginning."

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