When the Sky signed two-time MVP, five-time All-Star and 2016 WNBA champion Candace Parker on Feb. 1, they became immediate WNBA Finals contenders. As general manager and coach James Wade said after the acquisition, an already talented team needed an MVP-caliber player.
This year’s chase of the Sky’s first WNBA title officially begins Sunday with a 20-player training-camp roster.
“I want [camp] to be a knock-down, drag-out fight,” Wade said.
The Sky are back to camp as usual for the first time since 2019. Last year’s camp was postponed because of the pandemic before teams headed to a bubble environment in Orlando, Florida, for a shortened season.
On a personal level, Wade is looking forward to some stability. He went from winning WNBA Coach of the Year after his first season with the team to coaching in a pandemic. Going into last season, he had expectations for how he could implement certain system changes. Instead, the entire system of the league changed, from how teams practiced to how games were set up, leaving little space to execute new ideas.
This year, he has some fresh plans. His roster includes first-round draft pick Shyla Heal and eight players signed to training-camp contracts, including guard Lexie Brown, whom the Minnesota Lynx waived this week.
In the meantime, the Sky will be without longtime guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley and forward Gabby Williams to start camp. Vandersloot and Quigley are expected to arrive in time for preseason action, but Wade said he’s unsure if they’ll play in either of the two games. Williams — who will join Astou Ndour in competing in the EuroBasket tournament in June — will not be with the Sky through the beginning part of the regular season, Wade said. According to a league source, the Sky had weighed several trade options that included Williams on draft night, leading to speculation about her future with the team.
Unlike Williams, Ndour will be with the Sky leading up to the tournament.
“Astou will miss a couple of weeks — maybe six games, we calculated,” Wade said.
This will be the most competitive training camp under Wade’s leadership. Forwards Ruthy Hebard, Ndour and Azura Stevens are solidified pieces of the roster. Rookie Natasha Mack, touted for her defense, length and ability to protect the rim, also will be fighting for a spot.
With Vandersloot and Quigley arriving late, some of the guards realistically will be there just to keep training camp competitive. But Wade drafted Heal expecting her to be on his final roster.
“We didn’t draft her to try her out,” he said. “We know she’s going to be on our team. The thing that’s different [between] her and everybody else is she’s not as close to being who she is than the other 22-, 23-year-old guards [are].”
Wade’s priorities in camp will be establishing chemistry, developing a system that best uses playmakers and emphasizing defense. By May 13, two days ahead of the Sky’s season opener against the Mystics, he will have cut the roster to 12 players.
As far as expectations, he has only one.
“Whatever team we are in August, I want it to be better than the one we were in July,” he said. “And whatever team we are in September, I want it to be better than August. Wherever that takes us is fine with me.”