Questions around Sky's frontcourt loom as season approaches

The Sky are far from a solidified group less than 48 hours ahead of the league’s roster cutdown date.

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Connecticut Sun v Chicago Sky - Game Five

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Days before the Sky open their season against the Lynx, significant questions surround coach/general manager James Wade’s roster. They begin and end in the frontcourt.

Center Li Yueru has missed all of training camp. Forward Elizabeth Williams has missed the majority of camp while recovering from a concussion. Since last Wednesday, forward Isabelle Harrison has been away from the team with an undisclosed absence and missed the preseason game in Toronto.

Williams and Harrison are projected starters on this new-look team, but there’s no guarantee they will be available for the season opener Friday in Minnesota.

“No expectations,” Wade said when asked about Williams’ availability for the opener. “But I think we’re moving in that direction.”

When it comes to Harrison’s return to team activities, Wade said it’s a fluid situation. He has acknowledged that Harrison’s absence wasn’t because of injury and reiterated that to the media Tuesday.

“It’s something that we want to remain in-house until we have all the information,” Wade said.

Wade was adamant that the uncertainty of those three key frontcourt players won’t affect his final roster. With two days before the league’s cutdown date, Wade has significant decisions to make in order to field the minimum requirement of 11 players. The CBA mandates that if a team falls below that at any point in the season, they must sign another player within 72 hours.

Without Li, Williams and Harrison, Wade’s roster is at just seven available players, not including those signed to training-camp contracts or draft pick Kayana Traylor. Ruthy Hebard, one of Wade’s solidified players, has not shared when she expects to return after the birth of her son April 11. She is working out with strength and conditioning coach Ann Crosby and hopes to be back on the court soon.

Without Hebard, Wade’s roster is at six available players signed to either protected or unprotected contracts. There are opportunities for training-camp players on Wade’s final roster but also with non-standard contracts if for example, the Sky qualify for a hardship exception. The basic hardship exception applies to teams who have two players unable to play for a minimum of three weeks at the time of the request. An emergency hardship exception can be approved by the league if a team has fewer than 10 available players.

Although Wade hasn’t indicated when Williams and Harrison will be available, it’s unlikely that they will be absent for the three-week period necessary to qualify for a basic hardship, but Li and Hebard’s absence might. All four absences would definitely warrant emergency hardship exceptions allowing Wade to sign players to those non-standard contracts.

“Obviously, it’s been fun playing on this team because there are no superstars,” forward Kristine Anigwe said on media day. “It feels like everyone has a fair shot [at making the roster]. It’s fun. We’re all just competing hard in every practice. There’s no ego, and we all respect each other for where we’re at.”

Anigwe and Morgan Bertsch are the two true bigs on training-camp contracts. Bertsch has separated herself among the group, averaging 9.3 points, three rebounds and 1.6 assists in three preseason games.

Wade and his players have reiterated the importance of developing cohesion throughout camp. While Wade is adamant his players haven’t had an issue with that development — “We have training-camp practice every day,” he said — his team has yet to practice in its entirety.

Marina Mabrey was a late addition after the conclusion of her championship season with Famila Schio in Italy.

Meanwhile, Li still is rehabbing from the lower-extremity injury she sustained overseas ahead of training camp.

With less than 48 hours before the league’s cutdown deadline, the only certainty surrounding the Sky is they are far from an established group. Who will be available in the frontcourt opening weekend remains to be seen.

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