If this playoff run is the Sky’s version of ‘The Last Dance,’ they’re intent on seizing the moment
The No. 2 Sky will play the No. 7 Liberty in a best-of-three first-round series starting Wednesday.
PHOENIX — Whether general manager/coach James Wade wants to talk about it or not, change awaits the Sky in the offseason.
When Candace Parker signed a two-year deal with the team during free agency in 2021 — proclaiming, ‘‘I’m home’’ — with her came championship expectations and a two-year window to make it happen. The Sky made good on those expectations last season, but they did it in a way that left them craving more.
So their unrestricted free agents, including 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, reupped their commitments. They all took less in free agency and re-signed to give the Sky a chance to become the first WNBA team in 20 years to win back-to-back titles.
But on the other side of the playoff push the Sky are about to embark on is another free-agency period in which they will see five players become unrestricted free agents, including every starter but Copper.
‘‘When is your lease up?’’ Wade asked in response to a question about the Sky’s future. ‘‘Where are you living at in August next year? Are you worried about it?’’
Despite Wade’s dual role as GM and coach, his response to questions about the future confirms he’s operating as a coach right now. He’ll pull his GM cap off the rack after the postseason.
The Sky have said numerous times they aren’t thinking about anything beyond what’s in front of them. After their 82-67 victory in their regular-season finale Sunday against the Mercury, that’s a best-of-three series against the Liberty in the first round of the playoffs.
Azurá Stevens scored 17 points to go with four rebounds and three assists. Quigley added 14 points and Emma Meesseman and Copper 11 each. Parker had four points, six rebounds and three assists. The Sky’s starters sat the entire fourth quarter, and their bench accounted for 37 points.
Still, regardless of where the Sky say their focus is, it doesn’t negate the fact that this run likely will be the last for the team as presently constructed.
‘‘I’m one of those who live in the moment,’’ Parker said. ‘‘I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing in November or December, let alone next year.’’
The Sky fulfilled their championship expectations last season, but they were far from the team they knew they could be, finishing the regular season .500 and taking a No. 6 seed into the playoffs. Part of their motivation for running it back came from a desire to put together an entire championship season.
The Sky fell to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs this season after losing to the Aces 89-78 on Thursday, but they finished tied with them for the best regular-season record in the league at 26-10. The Aces held the tiebreaker after going 2-1 against the Sky during the regular season.
As the Sky prepare to start their playoff run, some players are deriving motivation from a nearly 25-year-old story. Last month, Copper sent out a tweet that either meant nothing or everything. All it said was, ‘‘The Last Dance.’’
Wade said he has discussed the 10-part documentary series detailing the rise of Michael Jordan and the Bulls during the 1990s, leading up to their last NBA title in 1998. Some of the players have watched it, but others are adamant this isn’t the Sky’s version of a farewell tour.
‘‘I haven’t talked to anyone about that,’’ Quigley said. ‘‘It’s just about playing well and trying to get another championship. We’re locked in on that right now.’’
As important as it is to move beyond the regular season in preparation for a championship run, the Sky shouldn’t completely erase it. Their 26-10 record is a franchise best, and they went 34 games before losing back-to-back. One of the most important factors in a team’s postseason success is its ability to adjust. The Sky already have proved they can.
What awaits the Sky during free agency next year is undetermined. What’s unwavering is their commitment to seizing this playoff moment.
‘‘We put all this work in, we all committed to coming back, so, yeah, our time is now,’’ Vandersloot said.
NOTE: Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot left the game Sunday after a hard screen sent her to the floor in the third quarter. She remained on the bench for the rest of the game, in large part because of the Sky’s double-digit lead, and GM/coach James Wade had no update on her status afterward.