The Sky picked up the options on James Wade’s contract in August, locking him in through the 2025 season.

The Sky picked up the options on James Wade’s contract in August, locking him in through the 2025 season.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Sky coach/GM James Wade ready for future with new-look team

He is focused on building a team around the last remaining starter from his 2021 championship roster, Kahleah Copper.

MINNEAPOLIS — There’s no rearview mirror in the company car Sky coach/general manager James Wade is driving.

A week after losing franchise players Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, Wade refuses to look back on the Sky’s recent championship past. The future success of the franchise won’t be found in time spent reminiscing.

Instead, Wade’s gaze is locked on what lies ahead: building a team around the last remaining starter from his 2021 championship roster, Kahleah Copper.

“I can’t focus on a couple of weeks ago, especially when everybody has moved on,” Wade said during USA Basketball camp, where he’s a court coach on Cheryl Reeve’s staff. “I have to move on, too. It’s really important that I give all my energy to the Sky players that are committed to us and not think about the past.”

Over the last week, Wade has signed Isabelle Harrison, Courtney Williams and Elizabeth Williams. He also welcomed back Astou Ndour Fall, an impact player off the bench during the Sky’s title run, and signed two training-camp players, Feyonda Fitzgerald and Robyn Parks.

But it wasn’t long ago that Wade was confident about a future that included his championship core returning.

During exit interviews after the team’s semifinal loss to the Connecticut Sun, Wade shared that after failing to repeat as champions, his goal was to sell his unrestricted free agents on going for two out of three. In December, he was adamant that the Sky’s future would not include a rebuild.

So what broke down, and when did it become clear it was time to pivot?

“We tried to get them to come back,” Wade said. “They had other decisions and choices they made for various reasons. That was it.”

Wade said there was no discord that led to the mass exodus.

Parker was the first to leave. Within days, Vandersloot announced she would not re-sign with the organization that drafted her in 2011. Then news broke that Quigley would sit out the season. Azurá Stevens was the last of the Sky’s championship free agents to leave.

Parker and Vandersloot left to sign with organizations that are setting the standard for investment in the WNBA. Asked how he sells the league’s stars on playing for an organization that isn’t investing on the same level, Wade said he didn’t agree with the assessment.

But just look where the top free agents took meetings and ultimately signed. Breanna Stewart, the league MVP in 2018, made clear her intentions to sign with an organization that prioritized a future with amenities such as charter travel.

When it was reported that she was meeting with the Seattle Storm, Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty and Washington Mystics, it became clear that the Sky weren’t in the running. Wade said the Sky didn’t get a meeting with Stewart because they didn’t request one.

What can’t be questioned is Wade’s success. He has the highest winning percentage of any coach in Sky history and led the team to its first title. He did that as a coach and GM. His free-agent moves last year earned him the executive of the year award, to go with his 2019 coach of the year award.

After leaguewide hires and coaching changes, Wade is the last remaining coach/GM in the WNBA. It’s a dual role he has no interest in giving up at this time.

“I don’t think I would have accepted this job if I was looking to separate them,” Wade said. “I just signed an extension, so there’s no reason to even think about that.”

The Sky picked up the options on Wade’s contract in August, locking him in through 2025.

This season will be the biggest test of Wade’s career with the Sky. When he arrived in 2018, all of the Sky’s championship starters were on the roster except Parker. His biggest splash as GM was signing her, but he also made impactful trades, acquiring Stevens and Dana Evans in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Last year, he signed overseas star Rebekah Gardner, who had an immediate effect on a team of champions.

Wade extended a reserved qualifying offer to Gardner in January. She has yet to sign, but Wade expects her to.

“She’ll be with us in 2023,” he said.

Aside from Copper, Wade is working with his first blank canvas since joining the Sky. The success of his 2023 free-agent signings remains to be seen.

“If I worried about the Sky is falling, or whatever moniker you all want to say, I’d be in a bad place,” Wade said. “I never have worried about that. I didn’t worry about it when we were 16-16, and I didn’t worry about it when we lost in the playoffs in the bubble. I just have to keep us competitive and keep us on the right path.”

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