Center Liz Cambage has signed to return to the Las Vegas Aces, strengthening a team that is expected to be the favorite for the 2021 WNBA season. Terms of the deal were not released.
Cambage was given the core designation, so she was restricted to negotiating with the Aces. But she said Las Vegas is exactly where she wants to be.
Cambage, 29, did not play in the WNBA's bubble in Bradenton, Florida, last season, as she got a medical exemption because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She did play in her native Australia over the winter and won a WNBL championship with the Southside Flyers in December. Since then, Cambage has been working on her game in the Los Angeles area.
"My game was good; it can always get better," said Cambage, who led the WNBA in scoring average at 23.0 points per game in 2018, when she was still with the Dallas Wings. "I can always learn more, sharpening every tool I have on my belt."
Cambage was traded to Las Vegas for the 2019 season, which paired her with forward A'ja Wilson, 24, who was the league's MVP in 2020. Cambage said that playing with Wilson is similar to playing with three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson on the Australian national team.
"I love playing with her," Cambage said of Wilson, who averaged 20.5 PPG last season. "Watching her last year pushing through, leading the team (while) so young ... all I've got for that girl is nothing but love and respect."
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said the two post players learned a lot about each other in the 2019 season - when Wilson averaged 16.5 PPG and Cambage 15.9 - that they can apply in 2021, and that the combo helps Las Vegas in every aspect - scoring, rebounding, defense and depth. The Aces made the WNBA semifinals in 2019 and the WNBA Finals in 2020, falling to eventual champions Washington and Seattle.
"When we got Liz, everybody was questioning how it was going to work out between the two of them," Laimbeer said. "They both sacrificed their individual statistics for the good of the whole, which was wonderful to have.
"They both had that respect factor that all they cared about was winning. This year is going to be the same way."
In free agency, the Aces added one of the league's top point guards in Chelsea Gray, who won a championship with Los Angeles in 2016.
"I can't wait to be catching those dimes from her," Cambage said. "I'm so excited to get on court and start playing. Last year, I got to step back and focus on me and my game."
Cambage was just 19 when she was the No. 2 draft pick in 2011 for Tulsa, a team she acknowledges she did not want to play for and never felt comfortable with.
Cambage played all of the 2011 season with the Shock and part of the 2013 season, after taking off 2012 to be with the Australian national team for the Olympics. After 2013, she didn't return to the WNBA until 2018; by then the Shock had moved to Dallas and had become the Wings.
Cambage has been very open over the years about how difficult her time in Tulsa was, and how she has had mental health challenges to deal with for much of her life. She addressed that Friday, saying she is feeling very good and in a positive place on court and off.
"I'm really smiling from the inside out right now," said Cambage, who added she was going to lunch with new Aces owner Mark Davis after Friday's Zoom call. "There were days where I hated waking up to hoop life. I hated to go to practice.
"I don't know what's changed ... if it's getting older and being more appreciative of the game and my life. But I live the best life. I'm surrounded by people, and I go to work with people, who push me and want me to be the best. Just being around people with good energy."
Cambage struggled for years with homesickness for Australia when she was playing elsewhere in the world, but said Friday she's outgrown that. In fact, she said, Los Angeles, where she's been training, and Las Vegas really feel like home for her now. Still, she looks forward to playing for Australia in the upcoming Olympics. It will make for a taxing next several months, balancing the WNBA season and the Summer Games, but she is ready for it.
"I'm locked in for the hardest year of my life," Cambage said. "My body's built for this. I've been working so hard. It comes with being a professional athlete."