Sky exercise guard Dana Evans’ fourth-year option, but moves remain ahead of final cutdown date

Coach/GM James Wade will have to cut his 16-player roster to 12 by Thursday.

SHARE Sky exercise guard Dana Evans’ fourth-year option, but moves remain ahead of final cutdown date
Dana Evans was originally drafted by the Dallas Wings with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft. The Sky traded Shyla Heal, whom they drafted with the No. 8 overall draft pick for Evans in June.

Dana Evans was originally drafted by the Dallas Wings with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft. The Sky traded Shyla Heal, whom they drafted with the No. 8 overall draft pick for Evans in June.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Coach/general manager James Wade made his belief in guard Dana Evans as a key piece of the Sky’s future clear Monday by exercising the fourth-year option on her rookie-scale contract.

It was the first of what is guaranteed to be a week full of roster moves, with the WNBA’s final cutdown date fast approaching.

Wade’s decision to exercise Evans’ option is unsurprising, given her development overseas during the last two seasons. The option locks Evans into a guaranteed contract through next season and prevents Wade from waiving her with no hit to the Sky’s salary cap. More significantly, it will keep Evans from becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season. Instead, she will be a restricted free agent after next season.

What this move doesn’t do is prevent Wade from trading Evans, which is an unlikely scenario, given how much he values her game and her fit with the roster. Ultimately, this gives the Sky greater contract control.

The first week of the WNBA regular season is always a mixed bag of emotions, depending on whom you’re speaking with. For the Sky, who play their opener on the road Friday against the Lynx, guard Kahleah Copper is going to have different feelings than guard Feyonda Fitzgerald.

One is a certified star gearing up for a career-defining season; the other still is working to prove she belongs on a final roster.

‘‘When I’m overseas, I’m the superstar on my team,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘But when I come into the WNBA, I’m not the superstar anymore. I need to play my role and do what my team needs me to do. That’s totally fine, but [playing in the WNBA] is where I want to be.’’

Fitzgerald and Copper first met as opponents when they played for Temple and Rutgers, respectively. After one game, they had a chance to talk and established a friendship.

Copper was drafted a year before Fitzgerald, but whenever she was back home in Philadelphia, she would work out with the Temple women’s team. The two share a knack for talking trash. Put them together, and it’s a tossup for who has the other one beat.

‘‘I think we’re probably about even,’’ Fitzgerald said.

‘‘That is not accurate,’’ Copper said, laughing.

Fitzgerald, who averaged 23.1 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds for Antalya 07 in Turkey, is signed to a training-camp contract.

As it stands, Wade has 10 players signed with the cap space to sign two training-camp players or draftees. The uncertainty surrounding center Li Yueru’s status, combined with her unprotected contract, might mean a number of things. Wade could waive Li with no hit to the Sky’s cap space or suspend her contract. He also could sign a player to a non-standard contract as a temporary replacement if he expects Li to play this season or even look to move her in a trade.

Wade told the Sun-Times that Li is dealing with an injury to a lower extremity and hasn’t given any timetable about when — or if — she will be available to play this season. But she has yet to make an appearance during Sky practices that have been open to the media. It remains unclear what Wade’s plans are with Li but he has said in the past he sees her as a valuable part of the franchise’s future.

Frontcourt depth is what the Sky are lacking most, and Morgan Bertsch appears to be a lock to make the roster after the three preseason games. She started the Sky’s preseason finale Saturday, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

Even with Wade’s guard-heavy roster, there is also space for a player such as Fitzgerald or rookie Kayana Traylor.

Wade has until 4 p.m. Thursday to finalize his roster.

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