Aces are reportedly under investigation over Mark Davis’ latest attempt to bypass CBA to support players

Mark Davis

Las Vegas Aces team owner Mark Davis has been one of the most invested team owners in the WNBA since taking over in 2021. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Las Vegas Aces team owner Mark Davis has made no secret of his attempts to find ways to circumvent WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rules and provide his players with the support, both financial and otherwise, that he believes after earn. His latest attempt has reportedly gone too far and is under investigation by the league office for circumventing the salary cap.

The Next reported Wednesday that reigning champion Aces is under investigation for “making covert offers to both current players and free agents the team is pursuing.” The Aces were already close to the $1.42 million cap as all five starters entered free agency. They traded Dearica Hamby for the Sparks — which is another investigation in itself — to open the cap room and sign Candace Parker and Alysha Clark, both two-time WNBA champions.

Questions quickly arose as to how the Aces managed to sign Parker, a two-time MVP who still plays at a high level, and Clark, a defensive specialist, within their already strapped cap constraints. Aces players have repeatedly signed for smaller deals over the years than they could make elsewhere. Parker signed for $100,000 according to Her Hoop Stats, a $95,000 reduction from her Sky salary, and Clark for $110,000, less than her $185,000 in 2022 with the Mystics.

The moves propelled the Aces to “superteam” status across the league and were met by a second superteam at New York Liberty, which added the Aces’ new signings’ former championship teammates. Former MVP Breanna Stewart and standout point guard Courtney Vandersloot both announced they would be signing with Liberty but have yet to sign deals. The team has approximately $426,000 in cap room, according to Her Hoop Stats, with at least three roster spots to fill.

Aces reportedly violated the CBA salary cap

The reported violations are a pay-for-play-like deal. After a senior member of Aces’ front office and a player’s agent completed a phone call regarding a possible contract or re-signing with the team, the agent received a call “with an offer for a certain amount of money from a certain, preselected company.” The Next reported The work involved, presumably for a call about a sponsorship or partnership deal, was “negligible,” The Next reported.

There was no further information about the violations. Neither the Aces nor the WNBA responded to comment on The Next.

The allegations could violate Article XV of the CBA, which dictates that a team must not enter into an agreement with any sponsor, business partner or third party that agrees to “pay compensation for basketball services (even if such compensation is alleged to be for non-compliance). basketball services) to a player under contract with the team.”

The agreement can be “derived” as such if the remuneration is “significantly higher than the fair market value of all services to be provided by the player” or “if the remuneration in the player contract between the player and the team is significantly lower than the fair market value of such contract. “

The CBA also clarifies that all parties involved interpret the salary cap, compensation, and free agency rules “to preserve the substantial benefits achieved by both parties to this agreement.” You may not enter into any agreement or transaction “for the purpose of frustrating or circumventing the intent of the parties as expressed in any provision of this Agreement.”

Davis continues to break the rules

Davis went into the offseason openly to find loopholes in the CBA to support players, invest in the product, and grow the league properly. This is clearly one of those cases, although it’s unclear if he went a step too far in this case.

The general idea is that owners should not enter into any business that violates the meaning of the CBA – which is largely based on fairness and competitive balance for the 12 franchises. But the specific wording in the clause being referenced is “to a player contracted with the team,” and that may be a hook Davis’ attorneys put in for him.

Other ways he’s sidestepped the broader idea of ​​”competitive equilibrium” has been outside of the player salary cap. There’s no cap on coaching salaries, so he was able to pull former player Becky Hammon out of the NBA and pay her $1 million a year — a debatable number since it’s nearly the team’s entire salary cap. They won the franchise’s first title in their first season at the helm.

The issue of charter is an ever-growing issue in the league. All-star Kelsey Plum told Yahoo Sports in December that Davis would buy middle seats on the team’s commercial flights for players who don’t need to sit next to other travelers during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What he did is just about everything you could do in the CBA. Just the nicest versions of things that are allowed,” Plum told Yahoo Sports.

Then there are facilities. The Aces train in an 80,000-square-foot facility in nearby Henderson, Nevada that Davis built for them. It features two full size courts, locker rooms, exercise facilities, hydrotherapy rooms and more.

That’s not the norm in the WNBA. The Sky, for example, is in the third-largest media market, but practices in an amusement park Center a 45 minute drive from the stadium they share with DePaul. Casual gym-goers can walk up and talk to a Sky player on an exercise bike, as described by Chicago-based author Maggie Hendricks, while that won’t happen at a private Las Vegas facility.

The WNBA is at a turning point

The longest-running women’s league in the United States will kick off its 27th season in May, having grown steadily over the past five years. But there’s also a conflict between those who invest and “just want to win, baby,” as Davis says, and those who don’t or can’t invest the money to be rewarded later.

Liberty team owner Joseph Tsai, whose wife Clara Wu is the team’s co-governor, has also been adamant in supporting the league. He was at the center of the recent have-versus-have-nothing issue when he was caught paying for his team to fly on charter flights. The WNBA fined him $500,000 in 2021.

“That was the top $500,000 [Liberty owner] Joe Tsai ever spent,” a league source told The Next. The Next reported that some sources believe Davis’ salary cap circumvention is “several orders of magnitude more serious” than the charters.

Charter flights were part of Stewart’s free agency decisions, and she said she signed with the Liberty in part because the owners were willing to move the conversation forward. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said last week that charter flights should be “viable” and at an estimated $25 million a year they currently aren’t. The WNBA insists on competitive fairness, although one option would be to allow charters for those who want to pay for them, or use them when they are needed most. Stewart said the next steps she would like to see is that they would switch between no charters and all charters.

League full of rich owners

Often cited as the two richest in the WNBA, the two owners are able to break some rules and form the super teams they have created. The Aces and Liberty are runaway favorites for the 2023 WNBA title.

However, it is a misnomer. Tsai is worth an estimated $8.4 billion, according to Forbes, and is likely the league’s wealthiest individual owner. (Not all net worths are available.) Mat Ishbia, whose Phoenix Mercury and Suns deal was approved Tuesday, is worth an estimated $5.5 billion.

Davis’ estimated net worth of $1.9 billion trails that of Indiana Fever and Pacers owner Herb Simon ($3.4 billion) and rivals that of combined Mystics owner Ted Leonsis ($1.6 billion) and Sheila Johnson ($780 million). The new Lynx property of Marc Lore (about $4 billion) and Alex Rodriguez (widely valued at about $400 million) is also up there.

Almost all of them provide the money in the Sparks ownership group, which includes Mark Walter ($5.4 billion), Todd Boehly ($5.3 billion), and Magic Johnson (last valued at $620 million). , in the shadows.

There is money that can be invested in these WNBA teams with current ownership, but it often seems like it’s more a matter of will than resources. The coverage from The Next was about the teams getting ready to jump into the fray.

Several agents have begun urging other teams to already adopt such agreements, three WNBA front office members said The next. If the league either allows it or issues a sufficiently weak penalty to render it useless as a deterrent, teams are already preparing to adapt.

“Then we know the rules of the game and it’s time to catch up,” said a front office worker The next.

The CBA runs until 2027. The league raised $75 million in a capital raise last year, and Engelbert looks forward to the upcoming media rights deal as a cash injection for the league.


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