Sky’s title-defending season tips off May 6

WNBA regular-season highlights for 2022 include the league’s 18th All-Star Game, Commissioner’s Cup play and an all-time-high 36 games.

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The Sky’s Candace Parker is under contract for the 2022 season, but Kahleah Copper is a free agent.

The Sky’s Candace Parker is under contract for the 2022 season, but Kahleah Copper is a free agent.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Sky’s pursuit of back-to-back titles has a starting date, May 6 when they open the all-time-high 36-game season at home against the Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m.

The team will not have its WNBA Championship ring ceremony on May 6 due to players’ overseas commitments. That celebration will take place once all players have returned stateside, sometime within the first few home games.

Following their season opener against the Sparks, the Sky play the New York Liberty at home on May 11 before embarking on a three-game road trip against the Minnesota Lynx (May 14), Seattle Storm (May 18) and Washington Mystics (May 22). The Sky’s season opener will be the first time Candace Parker plays her former team. Parker was out with an ankle injury for all three of the Sky’s games against the Sparks during the 2021 season.

The Sky return to Wintrust Arena for three games to close out the month, playing the Indiana Fever on May 24, the Las Vegas Aces on May 28 and a rematch of the 2021 WNBA Finals on May 31 against the Phoenix Mercury.

On Sept. 14 the Sky close out the regular season on the road against the Mercury.

Each team will play 18 home games and 18 away. The previous schedule included 34 games from 2003-2019. Team’s played a shortened schedule in 2020 (22 games) and 2021 (32 games) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to reduce travel, the league has once again implemented series play with some teams scheduled to play twice in the same city.

Other highlights of the 2022 WNBA season include the return of the Commissioner’s Cup which includes 10 games per team all played between May 7 and July 7. The Commissioner’s Cup Championship will be played on July 27. The league’s 18th All-Star game is scheduled to be played on July 10. Additional details surrounding pre-All-Star activities and location are set to be announced at a later date.

Before any team can address the schedule they’ll need to address free agency and the Sky are one of the most intriguing teams in that department. Sky coach/general manager James Wade has four players under contract entering the 2022 season: Parker, Azurá Stevens, Ruthy Hebard and Dana Evans.

Finals MVP Kahleah Copper has indicated she wants to return to Chicago, while Courtney Vandersloot has stated she’s leaving herself open to the free agency process. She did say that Wade will get the first call.

As far as re-signing the rest of the Sky’s championship squad goes, Allie Quigley is an unrestricted free agent and said she needed to take some time before deciding what her future looks like in the WNBA. Diamond DeShields is a restricted free agent, so Wade will have the right of first refusal.

Deshields has also indicated she wants to play for the Sky next season and is focused on working herself back to being a more consistent offensive threat while she’s playing overseas. In 2021 DeShields averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 27 minutes for the Sky. She split the season starting for the first half and coming off the bench for the second.

She’s one of the most intriguing free agents this offseason because of her production versus her potential. In the last two seasons, her production dipped, in part because of her shortened 2020 season. In 2021 DeShields was candid about working through personal challenges to return to her 2019 form.

Wade has expressed confidence in DeShields’ ability to return to that player, the question is will other teams have that same confidence in her and how will their offers reflect that.

Other intriguing free agency scenarios include resigning Stefanie Dolson and Astou Ndour-Fall. Dolson’s stock undoubtedly rose this season when she showed her value as a starter and a role player coming off the bench. Her ability in pick and pop scenarios with Vandersloot and Quigley made her a tough player to defend. She also came up big in the playoffs defensively guarding some of the league’s top front-court assignments in Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner.

Copper has proven she’s deserving of a max contract offer and assuming that comes from Wade and the Sky, other sacrifices will need to be made. Whether that sacrifice amounts to a player taking less money to remain in Chicago or signing elsewhere will begin to unfold in January.

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