Sky facing offseason overhaul after Game 5 loss to Sun

Free agent Courtney Vandersloot is sure to have other options, and veterans Candace Parker and Allie Quigley might be retiring.

SHARE Sky facing offseason overhaul after Game 5 loss to Sun
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Courtney Vandersloot is one of James Wade’s five unrestricted free agents including Candace Parker and Allie Quigley.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Sky star Candace Parker recently had a discussion with her brother about emotions. The two were trying to decide which are greater, the emotions attached to winning or those attached to losing.

For Parker, it’s not even close. The emotions attached to losing are seared into her memory.

She remembers the time and place, the missed shots and the defensive breakdowns of every major loss in her career. So when it comes to making peace with the Sky’s loss Thursday to the Sun in Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals — in a season that had historic expectations — Parker has to add it to the bank.

‘‘I still haven’t made peace with Sophia Young’s backward shot my rookie year [in 2008 with the Sparks],’’ Parker said.

The shot Parker was referring to was a buzzer-beater by Young in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals that enabled the Stars to force a Game 3. They went on to win the series, ending Parker’s historic Rookie of the Year and MVP season.

Parker didn’t say which semifinal loss was worse, but the loss to the Sun was historic for all the wrong reasons.

Everything happened so quickly. The Sky were on the brink of earning a chance to defend the WNBA title they won last season before watching it all fall apart in four minutes. They allowed the Sun to go on the longest scoring run — 18-0 — to close a playoff game in WNBA history.

‘‘I’m walking around, like, it’s time to pack?’’ forward Kahleah Copper said. ‘‘I’m just not ready for this one.’’

The 2022 Sky were, by guard Courtney Vandersloot’s assessment, one of the best teams the organization has put together. By the WNBA’s standards, it was the best team, earning coach/general manager James Wade Executive of the Year honors.

Now it’s all in a state of flux.

Copper is the most veteran player and the only member of Wade’s starting lineup that is under contract heading into the 2023 season. Vandersloot and guard Allie Quigley returned for the 2022 season on one-year deals. Forward Emma Meesseman signed a one-year deal for 2022 as a free agent, and the two-year deal Parker signed in 2021 is expiring.

Forward Azurá Stevens also will become an unrestricted free agent.

Quigley and Parker have not shied away from retirement talk, and Vandersloot is confronting her future, as well, but in a different way. Since being drafted by the Sky in 2011, loyalty has been a driving force behind her decision to re-sign with them year after year.

For many years, she wouldn’t even have free-agency conversations but simply would ask where to sign. Last year, Vandersloot took meetings with the Storm and Lynx, too. This offseason, she once again will be an unrestricted free agent.

‘‘There was a good part of me that thought I wouldn’t be back last year, and here I am,’’ Vandersloot said during exit interviews. ‘‘The Sky have been loyal to me, and I have returned that favor.’’

Vandersloot said the Sky will be in the running to be her landing spot for the 2023 season.

The only place Parker was open to signing in 2021 — other than the Sparks, the organization that drafted her — was with the Sky. As an unrestricted free agent again, she also is considering retirement.

Operating under the assumption that Parker will have the same mentality she had in 2021, the Sky and Sparks figure to be the front-runners if she decides to continue her career. But the wounds suffered from the historic loss Thursday are still too fresh for her to consider what’s next.

Parker said she won’t make any decisions on her future based on short-term emotions.

‘‘I don’t even know if I’m going to be playing or what’s going to happen,’’ Parker said.

Playing for her hometown franchise — in front of her friends and family and with the people who make up the Sky — is enticing to Parker, but her decision about whether Thursday was the last game of her Hall of Fame career will come in time.

Quigley, meanwhile, already has said she won’t play overseas this offseason after spending 15 offseasons abroad. Whether she returns to the WNBA is to be determined.

Wade’s approach to his players considering retirement is not to influence their decision one way or the other.

‘‘I try to be there for them, be open-minded,’’ Wade said. ‘‘And let them know the Chicago Sky is the last uniform we want them to play in.’’

The free-agency period this winter will be even tougher than it was last offseason because Wade doesn’t have the selling point of the Sky trying to become the first WNBA franchise to win back-to-back titles in 20 years. That was undoubtedly the motivating factor behind Quigley and Vandersloot re-signing and Parker putting off retirement for another year.

Wade will be up against a wide-open point-guard market — especially with Vandersloot’s hometown team, the Storm, looking to replace retiring Sue Bird — two possible retirements in Parker and Quigley and selling a championship product after a loss in the semifinals.

How will he pitch unrestricted free agents and others across the league?

‘‘I guess by trying to go for two out of three,’’ Wade said.

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