After major improvement in 2019, Sky have potential to be championship contenders in 2020
The Sky are in position to be serious championship contenders in 2020.
The last year has been pretty good to the Sky, one of the few Chicago professional sports teams to earn a playoff berth in 2019.
There were plenty of individual achievements and team successes over the last year.
Point guard Courtney Vandersloot set a season assist record and became the first WNBA player to surpass 300 assists in a season. Forward Diamond DeShields earned her first of what likely will be many All-Star selections. Forward Astou Ndour had a breakout season after Jantel Lavender was lost with a season-ending injury. And coach James Wade was named Coach of the Year after he took a struggling team and made it a playoff contender.
Despite the triumphs, the season ended in heartbreaking fashion when Aces forward Dearica Hamby made a 38-foot, game-winning shot after she intercepted Vandersloot’s pass to DeShields in the second round of the playoffs.
Wade has argued that Hamby stepped out of bounds before the shot.
Regardless, the bitter ending to last season has left the Sky driven for next season. And they’re in position to be serious championship contenders in 2020.
“We go up,” Wade said after the season. “We gonna kick everybody’s ass next year.”
But there’s some work that needs to be done before that.
Wade, who also serves as the general manager, is almost done finalizing his staff. Last week, he hired former UMMC Ekaterinburg coach Olaf Lange as an assistant. He also promoted Emre Vatansever, who had been the Sky’s player-development coach since May 2018, to assistant coach under a new rule that allows teams to have three assistants.
Soon, the Sky will need to finalize their personnel. Seven of their 12 players are on expiring contracts, including Stefanie Dolson, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper.
Lavender, who was cleared last week to resume basketball activities, is expected to return to the Sky’s lineup, along with DeShields, who averaged a team-high 16.2 points last season. And Vandersloot likely will be designated a core player — the WNBA equivalent to an NFL franchise tag — for the second consecutive year.
The rest are all question marks. Wade has said he wants to re-sign as many players from last season as possible, but that might not be feasible. Most of the roster decisions are contingent on the new collective-bargaining agreement, which the WNBA and Women’s National Basketball Players Association are close to finalizing. The current deal, which was extended for the second time this offseason Thursday, is set to expire Jan. 15.
As of now, free-agent negotiations can start in January, though free agency doesn’t open until February.
Depending on what happens in free agency, the Sky are likely to go one of two ways with the No. 8 pick in the draft in April: add point-guard depth or another solid frontcourt player.
Last season, Gabby Williams did a solid job as Vandersloot’s understudy, but she said she feels more comfortable as a three or four, positions she has played her whole life. Wade said he’s unsure where he’ll play Williams.
The Sky could pick a natural point guard such as UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield or Oregon State’s Destiny Slocum (if she declares for the draft after her junior season). Or if they want frontcourt depth, they could go for Miami power forward Beatrice Mompremier, who set the Hurricanes’ season rebounding record last season.
Whichever way the Sky go in the draft, they seem to be trending upward. And they have added motivation going into next season.
“There’s a moment for every team and in every championship program and organization where a team realizes that they can win, and our team realized we could’ve won this year,” DeShields said in September. “It left us very, very hungry and wanting to come back and make it right.”