Sky’s roster takes shape in final hour before deadline

Sika Koné, the Sky’s new forward, is hoping to get from New York to Minnesota early Friday morning to play in the season opener against the Lynx at 7 p.m.

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Coach/GM James Wade will lead his new-look Sky against the Lynx in Friday’s WNBA season opener.

Coach/GM James Wade will lead his new-look Sky against the Lynx in Friday’s WNBA season opener.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

MINNEAPOLIS — Leave it to Sky coach/general manager James Wade to pull off a significant roster move in the 11th hour.

Only a day before his team takes the court for its season opener and minutes before the league’s roster deadline, Wade claimed forward Sika Koné off waivers and waived wing Anneli Maley on Thursday. While the news of Koné’s last-minute signing might sound surprising, Wade has been monitoring the league’s waiver wire in anticipation of such an addition.

“We’re looking at it, and we’re mindful,” Wade said Wednesday. “Right now, I think maybe the solution is in the gym.”

Unfortunately for the Sky, no consistency has arisen in the gym.

Guard Marina Mabrey was a late arrival to training camp and had her first full practice with the team Wednesday. One of Wade’s frontcourt pickups, Elizabeth Williams, was out for about a week while in concussion protocols, and the other, Isabelle Harrison, played in only two preseason games before being ruled out for “an extended period of time” with a knee injury.

“You have to take advantage and work with what you have here in the moment,” Kahleah Copper said Wednesday. “We’re not thinking about who could be, who could not be. We’re just working with the group we have.”

Harrison’s mother shared on social media with the Sun-Times that the forward will have surgery to repair her meniscus Friday. Wade would not confirm that.

Regardless, one of the pieces tasked with replacing a championship frontcourt that included Candace Parker and Azurá Stevens will not see the court for the foreseeable future. Harrison’s absence threatened to derail what was already shaping up to be a precarious first season in the Sky’s rebuild era. But as Wade has proved in the past, the league’s last remaining coach/GM always has something up his sleeve.

Signing Koné could end up paying dividends now — preventing disaster from taking place this season — and in the long run as the franchise tries to return to championship contention. Koné could be a foundational piece, but only if Wade and his staff are able to develop her, which is a big ask. Wade is in a win-now mindset, bringing into question if developing a player such as Koné will be a priority.

The 20-year-old already has excelled on the world stage but has yet to play in a league as competitive as the WNBA. Selected 29th by the New York Liberty in the 2022 draft, Koné developed remarkably with the Mali national team. In 2021, she helped lead Mali to its first semifinal appearance in the U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup.

According to her agent, Mike Cound, Koné is hoping to get from New York to Minnesota early Friday morning to play in the Sky’s season opener against the Lynx at 7 p.m. (WCIU-26.2, Marquee Sports Plus).

If Koné isn’t able to suit up with her new team, the Sky have a 13-player roster with four available bigs: Williams, Alanna Smith, Morgan Bertsch and Kristine Anigwe. Bertsch and Anigwe turned training-camp contracts into legitimate roster spots.

Anigwe, however, is the Sky’s maternity-exception player while Ruthy Hebard works her way back from maternity leave.

The league’s maternity policy allows a team to carry 13 players on the roster while a player is on maternity leave.

Wade’s guard group didn’t fluctuate much from his free-agency additions. The team signed Mabrey and Courtney Williams to complement returners Copper, Rebekah Gardner and Dana Evans.

Robyn Parks was the only swing player Wade signed from his training camp group.

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