How having Stars relocate to Vegas could impact WNBA's visibility

Bill Laimbeer, a two-time WNBA Coach of the Year, has nowhere to go but up with the Stars franchise and has the best chance of securing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft lottery. Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire

Now, this much is all confirmed: The San Antonio Stars franchise will move to Las Vegas, having been purchased by MGM Resorts International. They'll play in the Mandalay Bay Events Center, with Bill Laimbeer leaving the New York Liberty to take over as coach and president of basketball operations.

We don't know if the team's nickname will stay the same, what the team colors or uniforms will look like, or who Laimbeer will hire for his coaching staff. But let's talk about what we have so far..

Start with the new Las Vegas franchise itself. It puts another team back in the Pacific time zone, so now there are four, with Las Vegas joining Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle. The WNBA lost a West Coast team and one of its original franchises, Sacramento, after the 2009 season.

Will there be an immediate fan base? How much and how quickly the WNBA will be embraced by locals and visitors remains to be seen. From strictly a population standpoint, San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States with over 1.4 million residents. Las Vegas comes in at No. 28 with just over 630,000.

But that is only the city proper. If you count the entire Las Vegas Valley area, with Paradise -- where much of the Las Vegas Strip, including the Mandalay Bay Events Center, is located -- and Henderson, the population tops 2 million. Plus, according to figures from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, nearly 43 million people visited Las Vegas in 2016.

Tourists are always looking for different things to do, and Las Vegas has become more a family vacation spot in recent years as well. We'll be realistic and acknowledge that the WNBA probably doesn't appeal to all demographics that visit the area. But it is in the interest range for some others.

There is also only one other major pro sports team in Las Vegas, and that just launched: The Vegas Golden Knights started their inaugural NHL season this month (and, of course, the NFL's Raiders are supposed to move to Vegas by 2020). The overlap between the NHL and WNBA seasons is fairly minimal, save for each league's respective playoffs happening during or near the start/early part of the other's season.

There will be no NBA "big brother" for the Las Vegas WNBA team as there was in San Antonio, but that may be more a positive than a negative. The Spurs and their success actually seemed to drown out the Stars more than help illuminate them.

There are now just five WNBA teams left that are owned in conjunction with NBA franchises: Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Phoenix and Washington. (In the cases of New York with Madison Square Garden Co. and Washington with Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the NHL's Rangers and Capitals are also under the same owners.)

To a WNBA team, being part of such a big company can provide a certain amount of security ... except when it doesn't. For the Fever, Lynx, Liberty, Mercury and Mystics, the synergy with their NBA franchises seems to be now working overall.

But that hasn't always been the case for WNBA teams with an NBA affiliation. The Stars are just the most recent example of a WNBA team to be cut loose from its NBA owner.

Once the WNBA's ownership model changed after the 2002 season to allow for teams in non-NBA cities with non-NBA ownership, it opened the door for other owners whose specific interest was in the WNBA -- Connecticut, for example.

The Sun franchise began when the Orlando Miracle relocated north in 2003, and it's probably the best direct comparison to the new Las Vegas franchise. The Sun are owned by the Mohegan Sun casino and has its own arena inside the casino complex.

MGM Resorts International is a global company that owns many properties on the Las Vegas Strip, including Mandalay Bay resort and casino, plus its arena, which seats about 12,000. That's a good size for the WNBA's purposes.

A big difference, though, is with UConn's women's basketball success, there was a reasonable expectation of a built-in fan base for a WNBA team in Connecticut. And that's not a certainty in Las Vegas.

That said, how will being in Las Vegas potentially impact the WNBA's visibility? The pragmatic answer is that pro sports do have -- and always have had -- a pretty strong association with various forms of gambling. That includes fantasy sports, of course, and the WNBA's 2017 deal with FanDuel brought that aspect to the league.

If more people gain interest in the WNBA as something to bet on ... so be it. Interest is interest.

All of this may sound like it's dismissing the actual fan base in San Antonio and the disappointment of those who cared about the Stars there. But that's not the intention. The fact is, what's done is done.

Spurs Sports & Entertainment didn't want to keep the Stars franchise anymore, and the WNBA fans in San Antonio were left powerless. They weren't consulted or asked to rally to the defense of the Stars. They were given an inferior product with the worst record in the league three years running, while management did an increasingly poor job of showing interest in the Stars, let alone engaging their fans. If you were to be charitable to SS&E, you could say they at least went through the motions during the 2017 season before this sale was completed.

"Laimbeer has the knowledge about the league that should help in regard to getting the Stars -- or whatever they are going to be called -- up to speed as quickly as possible." Mechelle Voepel

How the team and its fan base will be valued by a corporation as big as MGM Resorts International is a legitimate question. Let's be frank, though: Mandalay Bay has been in the public eye in recent weeks for tragic, horrific reasons. This is positive news the company could use.

MGM Resorts International also has been noted in the industry as being strong in diversity hires, promotions and initiatives. Including prioritizing doing business with women-owned companies. Investing in the WNBA seems to be in keeping with other investments the company has made.

That may sound like a contradiction, though, in terms of Laimbeer being hired to be in charge of coaching and player personnel, replacing two women who were former WNBA players in those jobs. Ruth Riley, whose career included playing for Laimbeer in Detroit, was general manager in San Antonio for the past two years, and Vickie Johnson, a former Stars player and assistant coach, was head coach this past season.

Laimbeer does have greater experience at both jobs, considering his tenure in the WNBA extends back to mid-2002, when he took over the Detroit Shock during that season after Greg Williams was fired following a 0-10 start. The next season, Laimbeer led the Shock to the first of the franchise's three championships.

He left during the 2009 season to pursue NBA opportunities, and the Shock moved to Tulsa for 2010, and has since moved to Dallas. Laimbeer's experiences as an NBA assistant in Minnesota didn't lead to an NBA head-coaching job, and he came back to the WNBA with New York for the 2013 season. He stepped away from the Liberty briefly after the 2014 season, but then returned just a few months later, in January 2015.

Laimbeer had success in his five seasons in New York, but not to the degree he had in Detroit. Now, he's starting with a Stars franchise that has nowhere to go but up, and has the best chance of securing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft lottery.

Laimbeer got the nickname "Trader Bill" for his WNBA deals when he was in Detroit, which included bringing Katie Smith to play for the Shock back in 2005. She's now replaced him as head coach of the Liberty, and Laimbeer is again in a position to put his stamp on an organization that is recreating itself once more.

The Stars began as the Starzz in Salt Lake City as one of the original WNBA franchises in 1997. Then as the Silver Stars, they moved to San Antonio following the 2002 season. After 15 years, one appearance in the WNBA Finals, and dropping the "Silver" to become just the "Stars," they are moving again.

Laimbeer has the knowledge about the league that should help in regard to getting the Stars -- or whatever they are going to be called -- up to speed as quickly as possible. And to his credit, Laimbeer does have two former assistants now as head coaches in the WNBA, with Smith and Cheryl Reeve, who's won four championships in Minnesota.

Ultimately, it's always unfortunate to see a franchise leave a city and know that fans there end up getting disappointed and hurt by the departure. But if there's one thing the WNBA and its followers have learned to do, it's focus on the future and the looking at the positives. MGM Resorts International wanted the team. Laimbeer wants to run it. Both things could bode well for the franchise.