There were a lot of factors that Candace Parker weighed before deciding to sign with the Sky.
For starters, Parker, who grew up in Naperville, was excited at the opportunity of returning home for the final summers of her WNBA career and playing in front of her family and friends. She also loves Chicago sports teams and Portillo’s — that was evident during her hourlong news conference Tuesday.
But probably one of the biggest draws for Parker to return home was the Sky’s promising outlook.
Expectations for the Sky have grown exponentially over the last two seasons under general manager/coach James Wade. But after they crawled into the playoffs riddled with injuries and lost in the first round, it became clear among players and the coaching staff that the Sky needed an MVP-caliber player to take them from dreaming about making it to the Finals to living it.
That’s where Parker comes in.
Parker, one of the most decorated players in the women’s game, has seen and done it all over the last 13 years. The Sparks were near rock bottom when they drafted her first overall in 2008. She outlasted six coaches and dealt with the sale of the franchise. She has suffered heartbreaking buzzer-beater losses and has felt the joy of confetti raining down after winning the WNBA Finals.
The Sky needed a leader with championship experience to get them over the hump.
“She’s the type of talent,” Wade said, “. . . every year the team that she’s on, you automatically consider her team as a championship contender.”
At 34, the fiercely competitive Parker knows she has more games behind her than ahead of her. That said, the two-time league MVP wouldn’t have come to the Sky if she didn’t believe she had what is needed to help lead them to a championship.
“I can assure you that if I didn’t feel as though I can make it to Chicago with enough in the tank, I wouldn’t play,” said Parker, who led the Sparks in points (14.7) and rebounds (9.7) last season. “I don’t want to cheat the game. . . . I do think I have enough left in the tank. And for what I don’t have, I think the Chicago Sky and its team and its coaching staff will add to that. So I think just together, collectively, we have enough to get it done.”
And she’s not the only one who believes that. Both Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot believe this could be the year the Sky go all the way.
“She’ll in more ways than one take us to another level,” Vandersloot said. “We obviously have a lot of work to do, but . . . adding someone like [Parker] to a roster, not just from a leadership and winning perspective, but the impact she has on the game, I think it puts us in a really, really good position to actually be a contender for a championship.”
“It’s felt like that every year recently. ‘This next year’s gonna be our year.’ Next year, next year. But now it really feels that way,” Quigley said. “If everyone’s healthy, and adding a championship piece like Candace? I don’t see why not.”
It would be extra meaningful for Parker to help the Sky win their first title, but she said they can’t get ahead of themselves.
“Our sights are set on a championship, but with that being said, we understand that there’s the day-to-day, we understand we have to get to work, we understand we have a lot to do before that can happen,” Parker said. “But yes, I would be lying to you if I didn’t, you know, have that definitely in my mind.”