Becky Hammon’s Aces aiming for championship

Las Vegas Aces guard Riquna Williams (2) looks to pass against the Phoenix Mercury during the f ...

Riquna Williams had several reasons for returning to the Aces. She loved her teammates, had a good relationship with the front office and enjoyed playing in Las Vegas. She also had lots of options.

Several teams, along with the Aces, were in discussions to sign Williams during free agency ahead of the 2022 season, but one factor helped push Las Vegas over the top.

“There’s definitely unfinished business,” she said. “We’re going to get it done. Some way we’re going to figure it out.”

Williams returns to an Aces squad which knows the 2021 season was filled with success and missed opportunities. Las Vegas secured the league’s No. 2 seed and a double bye in the playoffs, but lost a five-game series to the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA semifinals, falling short of the team’s championship aspirations.

“We know we left a lot on the table last year,” point guard Kelsey Plum said.

The Aces have undergone lots of change since their elimination by the Mercury. Former coach Bill Laimbeer was moved into a consultant role, and the Aces hired Becky Hammon from the San Antonio Spurs in December, 2021 to be their coach. The Aces also lost star center Liz Cambage in free agency, but re-signed former league MVP A’ja Wilson to a long-term contract.

With Wilson committing the prime of her career to the Aces, and several of the team’s veteran stars still under contract this season, the Aces’ goals have never been clearer — championship or bust.

Hammon credited Laimbeer for building such a strong foundation during his tenure as the Aces coach. She believes her coaching staff is simply building on the winning culture that has been established the past few years.

While the Aces have added several veteran players to surround Wilson for a deep playoff run, the team also made moves to add younger talent.

A day before the 2022 WNBA draft, the Aces traded two future selections for a package which included the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft, giving them two first-rounders. They chose Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed and Florida Gulf Coast wing Kierstan Bell, who must prove they can help a team trying to win a championship.

“Either get with it or get lost,” Plum said. “This is the WNBA, It’s the hardest league in the world for a reason. We’re all here to win.”

Plum was complimentary of the work the two first-rounders and the other rookies have put in during the first week of training camp. The former Washington guard said the younger players are competing hard and pushing all the veterans.

Bell admitted the adjustment to professional expectations has been harder than she expected. However, learning from the veterans on the Aces roster and a coach like Hammon has been the opportunity of a lifetime.

After coming so close to a championship the past several seasons, Hammon said she thinks this group can be the one to finally reach the summit.

“If we stay healthy, the sky’s the limit for this group,” she said.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.