Sky fail to make any splash on the first day of free agency

The loss of Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Azurá Stevens is a major setback for the franchise.

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Candace Parker signed a one-year deal with the Aces worth $100,000.

Candace Parker signed a one-year deal with the Aces worth $100,000.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Wednesday was the first day that WNBA free agents could sign with teams, and news of splashy deals took center stage all around the league.

But not in Chicago. There was nothing but silence emanating from the Sky’s front office.

The only announcements involving the Sky were those confirming players’ departures.

Candace Parker’s one-year contract with the Las Vegas Aces worth $100,000, well below her market value, was made official. Meanwhile, Breanna Stewart declared her intentions to sign with the New York Liberty.

On Tuesday night, Courtney Vandersloot shared a letter detailing her plans to sign elsewhere. Reports circulated that Vandersloot would sign with the Seattle Storm but they were incorrect according to her agent, Lindsay Kagawa-Colas.

The final exit was that of Vandersloot’s wife, Allie Quigley. A league source confirmed to the Sun-Times that Quigley is not retiring but has opted not to play in what would be her 15th season in the league.

Just over 15 months removed from celebrating one of the most historic days in the franchise’s history, the sun set on one of the Sky’s worst days. Wednesday was a complete failure as the Sky failed to take any legitimate step toward a successful future.

The losses of Parker, Vandersloot and Azurá Stevens are major setbacks. It marks the beginning of a rebuild, and as the Sky have experienced in the past, that’s not an easy task to accomplish in this league.

After Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne forced trades two years apart, the Sky missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. The following two seasons, they lost in the first and second rounds.

But this situation is even more dire because those rebuilds included Vandersloot and Quigley, two players who have commanded fan adoration during their tenure.

Over the last two seasons, the Sky began to capitalize on their star power. After struggling to establish any kind of foothold in Chicago over their 15-year history, 2021 marked a turning point. The franchise had the second-best attendance in the league in 2021 despite COVID-19 restrictions according to Across The Timeline. They played in front of sellout crowds at Wintrust Arena during the Finals against the Phoenix Mercury. In 2022, they had more fans per game (7,180) but fell to fourth in the league behind Seattle, Phoenix and Minnesota.

In 2011, Vandersloot’s first season with the Sky, their average attendance was the second-worst in the league. During the two seasons that Fowles and Delle Donne shared the court, their attendance improved to ninth. After drafting Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams in 2018, it jumped to sixth.

The point: without stars, there are no fans.

Sky coach/general manager James Wade’s most significant move during last year’s free-agency period was securing Kahleah Copper to a two-year deal. After losing Parker, a face of the league, and Vandersloot, arguably the most significant player to wear a Sky uniform, Copper will carry the load of maintaining the franchise’s relevance in Chicago and the league in 2023.

She will be joined by Dana Evans.

Copper’s leaguewide pull was apparent after she was named 2021 WNBA Finals MVP and earned back-to-back All-Star nods over the last two seasons. Evans, meanwhile, has become a fan favorite despite her limited role. Her potential star power was exemplified when fans at Wintrust Arena erupted in chants calling for Wade to “put Dana in” in the final minutes of their Game 5 semifinals loss. Those chants were echoed on more than one occasion at Wintrust Arena during the 2022 season.

How Wade will fill out his roster for the upcoming season remains to be seen but the splashiest move he could make at this point would be to re-sign Stevens.

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