Sky’s rebuild season set to begin

The Sky open training camp with a nearly unrecognizable roster from the one that won it all in 2021.

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The Sky’s Kahleah Copper helped hand out winter coats to Chicago elementary school students as part of Giving Tuesday.

Kahleah Copper is the only remaining starter from the Sky’s championship run.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Sunday marks the first day of one of the most significant seasons in Sky history.

No, it’s not because they signed the best free-agent class this offseason or are considered anywhere close to title contenders. After Sky coach/general manager James Wade failed to re-sign any of his championship-winning unrestricted free agents in the offseason, this season will be significant because it’s the first of their rebuild.

But be careful about whom you use that term around. Doing so in the presence of those involved in the fall from championship glory evokes defensiveness and rebuttal, and here’s why:

Admitting you’re rebuilding less than two years after winning the first WNBA title in franchise history and less than eight months after being ousted in the semifinals is an admission of failure — a failure to sustain a championship-winning identity for longer than a 19-month window.

That’s not to say the Sky can’t get back into contention quickly. Wade’s resume proves he’s capable of quick turnarounds. The Sky haven’t had a losing season since he took over a team that went 13-21 in 2018 and coached it to a 20-14 record the next season.

But when the Sky return to that standard, it will be with an entirely new team — the definition of rebuilding. The Sky will open training camp Sunday with a nearly unrecognizable roster from the one that won the title in 2021.

After the championship season, Wade traded Diamond DeShields — the third overall pick in the 2018 draft — in a three-team deal to acquire point guard Julie Allemand and replaced Stefanie Dolson with Emma Meesseman in free agency.

Wade’s offseason moves had the Sky being called a superteam, and had they become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Sparks in 2001-02, we might not be bearing witness to the two newly developed superteams on either side of the country.

How did the Liberty and Aces earn the moniker that not long ago belonged to the Sky? They did it by picking off the Sky’s best unrestricted free agents.

That’s the issue at hand: The WNBA is being separated into the haves and have-nots, and the Sky fall into the latter category.

If it wasn’t clear before, it became blatantly so after the Aces debuted their first-of-its-kind practice facility. In a league that has strict measures to limit competitive advantages, teams such as the Aces are giving themselves an edge by investing in the franchise within the limits of the collective-bargaining agreement. The Storm are next on that list, with their new practice facility set to open before next season.

‘‘For me, it was family, business and basketball,’’ former Sky star Candace Parker said of signing with the Aces on ‘‘The Draymond Green Show’’ podcast in March. ‘‘I have not had a locker in my entire career. I’ve been in the WNBA 16 years, and I have not had a locker that has my name on it and I could leave my [things], come back and know my [things] will be there.

‘‘My thing is, I deserve that.’’

Every player in the WNBA deserves that.

Salaries are non-negotiable, with a strict salary cap that allows for a super-max base salary of $234,936. Another non-negotiable thing is travel, with the CBA barring charter flights for teams that can afford it so as to not create a competitive advantage.

If those limitations are in place, what’s going to be the difference-maker in free agency? A 64,000-square-foot practice facility equipped with everything pro athletes need will determine where the WNBA’s best players end up.

Your move, Sky. But don’t take too long, or this rebuild will turn into the kind of sustained mediocrity Chicago sports fans are all too familiar with.

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