Dissolution of Sky’s championship roster will remain blemish on organization

After the departures of Azura Stevens, Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper is the only remaining starter from the team’s 2021 championship run.

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Azurá Stevens was the Sky’s last unrestricted free agent from the franchise’s 2021 championship roster to be signed away.

Azurá Stevens was the Sky’s last unrestricted free agent from the franchise’s 2021 championship roster to be signed away.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The blows came one after the other.

‘‘Candace Parker will sign with the Las Vegas Aces.’’

‘‘Courtney Vandersloot will not re-sign with the organization.’’

‘‘Allie Quigley will not play in 2023.’’

Each headline knocked the Sky further from the championship team they were just more than a year ago. And just as their demise appeared as though it couldn’t get worse, it did.

On Thursday, Azurá Stevens — the last unrestricted free agent from the Sky’s 2021 championship roster — signed with the Los Angeles Sparks. On the opposite coast, a new superteam was confirmed with an announcement from Vandersloot that she would sign with the New York Liberty.

The dismantling was as abrupt as it was harsh for a fan base that only five months ago had back-to-back title hopes. Now the only starter that remains from the Sky’s championship team is Finals MVP Kahleah Copper.

Sky general manager/coach James Wade’s inability to re-sign a single unrestricted free agent from his title team is a failure on his part but also on the part of ownership, which failed to invest in the franchise in a way that made it a destination for the best players.

‘‘I would like to be the first to thank [Vandersloot] for everything she has done for our franchise,’’ Wade said. ‘‘She has been an integral part of the growth of our organization, and I wish her well in her future endeavors.’’

Those endeavors will include contending for a title. The Liberty pulled off one of the most significant free-agency periods in WNBA history after trading for 2021 league MVP Jonquel Jones and signing two-time champion Breanna Stewart and Vandersloot.

Meanwhile, Wade’s first moves of free agency were signing guard Courtney Williams and forward Isabelle Harrison. The latter deal was reported by WINSIDR.

One of the most unforgettable plays of Copper’s 2022 season came in Game 1 of the semifinals against the Sun.

With less than five minutes left and the Sky holding a one-point lead, Copper got tied up with Williams. The official called a jump ball as both players fought to secure possession. But as the dust settled, Copper and Williams remained intertwined, neither relinquishing the ball.

It wasn’t until they were whistled for double technicals and their teammates stepped in that they were separated. It exemplified the grit and toughness that defines both players.

Five months later, they are teammates.

After the move was reported, Williams shared a message for her new teammate on Twitter.

‘‘Aye, Kahleah Copper,’’ said Williams, who averaged 11.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season. ‘‘What’s up! Let’s get to it!’’

‘‘Wake ’em up!’’ Copper tweeted in reply.

Copper is entering the last year of the two-year deal she signed in 2022 after Wade used the core designation on her last offseason.

Given the exodus of players in recent days, it’s fair to question whether Copper really wants to stick around for the rebuild Wade has planned. According to one source, there have been no trade discussions about her, but the franchise has a long history of All-Stars who have forced their way out.

The Sky would be foolish to try and trade Copper before the start of the 2023 season, but that might change closer to the trade deadline in August, depending on whether Wade is confident she would return in free agency.

Instead of gambling on Copper re-signing, Wade might try to get future draft assets by dealing her. He also could look to sign her to a contract extension this year, locking her into the Sky’s rebuild era for the long term.

As currently constructed, the Sky’s roster needs a lot of work. Dana Evans and Li Yueru are on unprotected contracts. Julie Allemand and Ruthy Hebard are signed to protected rookie-scale contracts, but sources said Allemand might not play in the WNBA this season. Emma Meesseman, another unrestricted free agent, also is unlikely to play in the league this season, sources said.

How Wade fills out the rest of his roster remains to be seen. What’s clear is the dissolution of the Sky will be a blemish on the franchise forever.

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