Sky mailbag: Will this be a complete rebuild year?

With the Sky’s championship roster on the brink of breaking up, we answered some of your questions about where things stand.

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Candace Parker (middle) was the first of the Sky’s unrestricted free agents to be signed away from the franchise.

Candace Parker (middle) was the first of the Sky’s unrestricted free agents to be signed away from the franchise.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Sky’s band is on the brink of breaking up.

Hometown legend Candace Parker is already gone. Courtney Vandersloot, the Sky’s longest-tenured player, has been linked to the Liberty, a developing superteam. Azurá Stevens is getting interest from across the league, and Emma Meesseman is unlikely to play in the WNBA in 2023.

To add insult to injury, this just might be the year Sky fans see Allie Quigley retire.

There’s no better time than the present to answer Chicago sports fans’ questions about a franchise that just more than a year ago was celebrating its first WNBA title.

 Does it feel like everyone yelling to blow the post-Candace Parker Sky team up is forgetting the team has quality players around Kahleah Copper already? It isn’t feeling like dire straits to me. — Ernest W. 

The Sky have Dana Evans, Ruthy Hebard, Julie Allemand and Li Yueru under contract with Copper. Evans and Li are on unprotected contracts, which means if they are cut before the midway point of the season, the Sky’s salary cap will be docked only a prorated part of their salary. 

No one is saying these aren’t quality players, especially Evans, but none is Parker or Vandersloot. Evans showed flashes of her potential to be a starter during the limited minutes she was on the court last season. Her development has continued overseas, where she’s averaging 23.5 points and 5.8 assists for Besiktas JK in Turkey. She could be a key piece, along with Copper, that Sky general manager/coach James Wade builds the future of the franchise around. But there are question marks surrounding Allemand’s and Li’s return this season.

The Sky aren’t in a dire situation yet. Wade is active on the free-agent market, and if he’s able to pull off re-signing Vandersloot and Stevens, who has narrowed her decision to three teams, the Sky, LA Sparks and Minnesota Lynx, they easily will be back in playoff contention. But that position isn’t title contention with what the Aces have built and the Liberty are attempting to build by going hard after Breanna Stewart.

With Candace’s departure and Sloot likely leaving, as well, are there any big free agents left for the Sky to target, or will this be a complete rebuild year? — Mal

Big free agents? No. Stewart and Vandersloot are the top remaining players available.

Vandersloot hasn’t been signed away yet, and her decision will have a significant effect on the Sky’s direction in 2023. The Sky could be a playoff team this season with just a few key moves from Wade. The question is, should that be the goal?

You’re not going to hear anyone talk about tanking, and there are still a lot of reasons to think the Sky will be competitive this season. But given the loaded 2024 draft class, it’s not a terrible time to have a down year and be in position for a lottery pick.

Is there any stopping the Aces? — Brandon Smith

The only team stopping the Aces is the Aces.

Given Dearica Hamby’s allegations against the team, it’s not unrealistic to question whether the organization might be facing potential penalties in 2023. The WNBA players’ union is investigating Hamby’s claims that she was ‘‘bullied, lied to and discriminated against’’ because of her pregnancy. Neither the organization nor the league has addressed the statement Hamby made on social media detailing her experience, but they will have to do so sooner than later.

On top of that, history isn’t on the Aces’ side. It has been more than 20 years since a team won back-to-back titles in the WNBA. On paper, however, it looks like no contest. 

Did you have a sort of feeling during the season that 2022 would be the last ride for this core? — Mark Schindler

There was a feeling around the Sky last season that the championship window was closing. That wasn’t only because four of their five starters were set to become unrestricted free agents, but because there was a visible disconnect among the players as the semifinals wore on.

With one victory separating them from a return to the Finals, the Sky got blown out in Game 4, then wasted an 11-point lead in Game 5. That doesn’t happen to teams that are in sync.

What more could Chicago have done? — M.E. Jenkins

Wade did what the Sky needed him to by signing Parker and leading the franchise to its first WNBA title in 2021. What the organization didn’t do a great job of was lengthening the championship window. You could argue that if Wade had coached his team to back-to-back titles, Vandersloot and Parker would re-sign in an attempt to go for three. But the Aces were a freight train last season. There’s no guarantee the Sky would have won if they had gotten back to the Finals.

It’s Wade’s job to build and coach the team. He can’t be held responsible for a lack of investment from ownership that has led to the Sky missing out on the WNBA’s top free agents.

How is [Copper] feeling about being the face of the Sky and, with many of her teammates gone, the leader of the squad? — Lorri

I can’t say how she’s feeling, but she’s prepared.

That’s what two years of playing alongside Parker does to a player with Copper’s work ethic. She studied the veterans, and now will be the time fans see her apply what she has learned and step further into a leadership role. During her time with the Sky, she has developed into one of the league’s brightest stars, earning back-to-back All-Star nods in 2021 and 2022 and leading the Sky in scoring both years.

This season could see Copper atop the WNBA’s list of leading scorers.

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