Voices within Sky franchise urge separating coach and general manager roles

There are obvious reasons why all other teams in the WNBA as well as the NBA have separated the positions. First off, coaching the players whose contracts you just negotiated presents challenges.

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Emre Vatansever Chicago Sky James Wade

Emre Vatansever, left, was promoted to interim coach/general manager of the Sky following the resignation of James Wade, center.

Sarah Gordon/The Day via AP

During his tenure as coach and general manager of the Sky, James Wade never entertained questions about whether the franchise needed to separate the roles. He was adamant that he enjoyed coaching the roster he was tasked with constructing.

After his resignation to take an assistant coaching position with the Raptors, the realities of the dual role are indisputable. The fact that the Sky is the last WNBA or NBA team operating with the dual coach/general manager role is not a badge of honor. It’s a signal of incompetence.

With Wade gone, Sky personnel are voicing the need for a separation between the roles.

“I think [the roles need to be separated],” Sky interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said. “100%.”

There are obvious reasons why every other team in the NBA and WNBA has separated the positions. You can start with the fact that coaching the players whose contracts you just negotiated presents challenges.

Look no further than the mass exodus of players after the Sky’s 2022 season.

Wade was named executive of the year for his offseason moves that brought in 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman to replace Stefanie Dolson and backup point guard Julie Allemand. But the promises made to both players regarding playing time contributed to Azurá Stevens’ and Dana Evans’ minutes taking hits.

Coach Wade then had to manage the expectations of players based on what general manager Wade sold to free agents in order to sign them. By the end of the season, there was a clear disconnect in the Sky locker room.

“It would definitely give us confidence [knowing that the organization was separating the roles],” Evans said. “[The dual role] is an uncomfortable situation. As a coach, it’s easier if you can just focus on coaching. You have to worry about people’s feelings [as a general manager].

‘‘There’s more to it, being a general manager. Being a coach, you just come in here and coach us. As a GM, it’s more behind-the-scenes talking. I don’t think it works.”

Evans made it clear after last season that she expected her role to change in 2023. She said in exit interviews that she had no desire to be a “cheerleader on the bench.”

Allemand’s decision to opt out of the 2023 WNBA season prevented Wade from having to navigate the emotions of unfulfilled promises. But that’s the kind of circumstance that he never should have had to deal with in the first place.

Stevens opted to sign with the Los Angeles Sparks despite an expanded role presented as a result of Candace Parker and Meesseman deciding not to re-sign with the Sky.

While Stevens has maintained that her decision was a result of an interest in a clean slate with a new franchise, maybe she would’ve considered a return to the Sky had it not been to play for the GM who handed her minutes to someone else.

Vatansever’s coaching career began at 17 in Turkey. He started coaching in the WNBA as an intern in 2014 and has been with the Sky as an assistant since 2017. He has the experience to successfully lead the Sky through the rest of the 2023 season and potentially beyond.

When it comes to the GM position, he has no experience other than limited conversations with Wade.

“The basketball takes enough off of us, and now you’re adding the GM part, which is more critical decisions,” Vatansever said. “One decision you make [as a coach] is going to have a chain reaction on the business side. So it’s just energy. It takes a lot of energy off of you.”

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