Liz Cambage out in Tulsa - is China the reason behind the change of heart?

Quinn Rooney

Yesterday’s announcement that Liz Cambage would not be returning to the Tulsa Shock came as a surprise to some. To others, it was more of a prolonged expectation. But regardless of how you look at it, her absence will be felt on the court.

"We were hopeful that she would give this wonderful city and our excellent coaching staff another chance this summer," Tulsa Shock head coach Gary Kloppenburg told Swish Appeal yesterday. "We're not where we want to be yet as a franchise and as a team, but we're just going to keep pushing forward till we get there. Certainly, if Liz decided to change her mind, we would welcome her back with open arms. In the mean time we'll move on and work hard to put together a team that will get T-Town fired up!"

But just how to do move on – and how this situation came about in the first place – is a bit of a puzzle.

As a rookie with the Tulsa Shock in the summer of 2011, Liz Cambage enjoyed success intermingled with bench riding. As someone who covered the team, at times it was perplexing. As the team … morphed throughout the season, there was no time to be perplexed by things like benching, with coaching changes and other interesting happenings taking place on any given day. But during what appears to be her sole WNBA season (or at least for the time being), she played in 33 games, starting just 11 of them. In her 20 minutes a game, she shot 51.1 percent from the floor and average 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds a night. In fact, in case you’ve forgotten, Cambage was tapped as an All-Star and was also named to the all-rookie team after being the second pick in the WNBA draft.

In 2012, she helped the Australian national team to a bronze medal in the Olympics, after sitting out the first portion of the season to train with the team. Then, when some internationals returned to the WNBA to complete the season, Cambage determined that she would not be coming back to Tulsa to finish the year. Last August, the 21-year-old cited exhaustion as the primary cause for not returning to the States after the Olympic break was over.

Her exhaustion did not sideline her for long, however, as Cambage played with Zheijang Chouzhou in China during the 2012 season, where she reportedly was under contract for around $400,000. While in China, Cambage averaged 36.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game en route to a runner-up finish. She posted two eye-popping 50+ point games during the 30-game season, including a 59-point outing to start the New Year on Jan. 1 versus Shenyang. The season, which ended Feb. 5, saw Cambage’s squad fall to Maya Moore’s team from Shanxi in the league championships.

In early March, it was pointed out that her name missing from the Tulsa Shock roster page and I started digging around. At that point, two conflicting answers were given – one was that an inadvertent error had her off the roster. Another explained that since she was officially "suspended" from the roster after not returning after the Olympics, that’s why her name failed to appear on the Tulsa rolls. After the inquiry, Cambage was placed back on the roster – for a month.

Now, it has been announced that she will not be rejoining the team for the 2013 WNBA season.

Sigh.

The reason given at this time was brief. A statement issued by the Shock on April 9 reads in full:

"Elizabeth Cambage will not return to Tulsa for the 2013 season. Cambage has signed a 2013 contract to play in China.

"We learned through Liz’s agent today that Liz will not be returning to Tulsa this season," said (Tulsa Shock President) Steve Swetoha. "We’re disappointed but we wish her the best of luck in China this season. We are excited about the 2013 season and the draft on Monday."

After reaching out to the organization for more information, Kloppenburg elaborated on the game plan of the Shock going forward with the draft less than a week away.

"Obviously, we would have enjoyed the chance to coach Liz in Tulsa and feel like she could have really improved her game here this year," Kloppenburg said. "But we have some excellent young players that are continuing to get better, and we'll do our best to develop them. I think getting Tiffany Jackson-Jones back will also help bolster our front line."

The expectation of many is that the Shock would (and still will) take point guard Skylar Diggins with its No. 3 pick. Kloppenburg went on to say of Tulsa’s draft strategy with the third overall selection coming into play, "We'll draft the best available player regardless of position as we work to improve our overall talent level."

Along with reaching out to the Tulsa Shock, I touched base with Cambage, who is currently on safari in Bali. She could not provide comment or context to the announcement at this time.

So what’s left is supposition.

In the initial statement from the Shock it is said that Cambage has signed a new contract in China, but according to her agent Allison Tranquili as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald this is not the case of yet. But whether the deal with Cambage is done or not, it is no secret that lucrative deals can be had in China, and Maya Moore just renewed her contact for the next three seasons.

Perhaps the money, allure and relative closeness to Australia make this worth forgoing the WNBA. It’s hard to turn down six-figure salaries while being a literal big fish in a small basketball pond, no matter who you are. Add in the fact that she has an easier time flying to and fro Australia to see her family and love interest, and it sounds like a slam dunk as to why the W is not in the immediate future of the young star.

Regardless of the reasoning though, this new development could leave a team with a legitimate change of contending for a playoff spot looking in from the outside. But if Gary Kloppenburg has any say in the matter, this setback won’t leave any prolonged shockwaves in Tulsa.

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