Once pegged Sky’s franchise player, Diamond DeShields returns to town with Mercury

Through eight games, DeShields is the Mercury’s second-leading scorer behind Skylar Diggins-Smith, averaging 16.4 points while playing 30 minutes a game.

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In four seasons with the Sky Diamond DeShields averaged 13.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, was named an All-Star in 2018 and selected for the All-WNBA second team in 2019.

In four seasons with the Sky Diamond DeShields averaged 13.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, was named an All-Star in 2018 and selected for the All-WNBA second team in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Diamond DeShields never thought she’d play for any WNBA team other than the one that drafted her.

When she arrived in Chicago after the Sky selected her third in 2018, she felt at home — not just on the team, but in the community.

But having grown up with a father, Delino DeShields, who played major-league baseball for five teams over 13 seasons before becoming a coach, and a brother, Delino Jr., a 2010 first-round MLB draft pick who’s currently playing for the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, she was well aware of the business side of professional sports. And when the WNBA’s free-agency period opened this past winter — less than three months after the Sky’s championship win — the writing was on the wall.

“I never envisioned [the free-agency experience] happening to me,” DeShields told the Sun-Times in January. “Chicago was my home — my long-term home. I was very comfortable with that idea.”

Instead, on Feb. 3, DeShields left the Sky in a three-team sign-and-trade deal that sent her to the Phoenix Mercury, the Mercury’s Bria Hartley to the Indiana Fever and the Fever’s Julie Allemand to the Sky, along with the Mercury’s 2023 first-round pick.

A number of factors went into her departure, going back to her rise as a WNBA force. DeShields was highly touted coming into the WNBA in 2018 after forgoing her final year at Tennessee to play professionally in Turkey. She was the Sky’s second-leading scorer as a rookie, averaging 14.4 points, and was named to the All-Rookie Team. The following season, she was a WNBA All-Star, won the All-Star skills challenge and was named to the All-WNBA second team.

But the next year, everything changed. DeShields was playing overseas in Italy when she took a knock from a defender on a routine play, leaving her with an odd level of pain. An MRI exam later revealed a tumor on her spinal cord — a career-threatening development that could have left her paralyzed.

The tumor was removed surgically, but DeShields had to learn to walk, run and play again — all the while keeping her surgery and rehab private.

She returned to the Sky for the 2020 “bubble” season in Florida, averaging 6.8 points in 13 games before leaving the bubble, citing personal reasons. Then, last year, her role with the team changed. After beginning the season in the starting rotation, she was replaced by Allie Quigley.

Going along with what was asked of her but unhappy about playing off the bench, she said during free agency that it had become clear the Sky no longer saw her as a franchise player.

“It was a combination of the [salary] cap space, her deserving a bigger role that I couldn’t give her, and her getting a fresh start,” said Sky coach and general manager James Wade, who has exchanged a couple of text messages with DeShields since the trade. “It worked out for both [the Mercury and Sky]. It worked out for her.”

Through eight games this season, DeShields is the second-leading scorer for the Mercury (2-6) behind Skylar Diggins-Smith, averaging 16.4 points and 30 minutes a game. Tuesday night’s WNBA Finals rematch will be her first time playing against her former Sky teammates since they won the title in October. Before the game, DeShields will receive her championship ring and be recognized for her contributions to the Sky organization and the city over four seasons.

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