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WNBA free agency: New CBA could complicate Sky GM James Wade’s plan

As free agency approaches, general manager James Wade is adamant about keeping his team intact. But how feasible is it for the Sky to keep all seven of their free agents?

Courtney Vandersloot has made her intentions to stay in Chicago clear.
Courtney Vandersloot has mad her intentions to stay in Chicago clear.
AP Photos

As free agency approaches, general manager James Wade is adamant about keeping his team intact.

“We want to keep all our free agents,” Wade told the Sun-Times this week. “The way it ended, I don’t think anyone wants to end on a sour note. And I think they want to finish the story.”

But how feasible is it for the Sky to keep all seven of their free agents?

Wade believes it’s “very realistic.” But the historic collective-bargaining agreement that was signed last week could complicate his plan.

The new CBA opens the door for more player movement in free agency compared to previous years.

Under the agreement, the league’s top veteran players can earn a maximum base salary of $215,000 — nearly double last season’s figure. Meanwhile, the salary cap increased only 30 percent, from $996,100 in 2019 to $1.3 million in 2020. And that number will continue to increase by 3 percent in each of the subsequent years.

Because of this, Wade will have to be more conscious of future implications when making his decisions over the next few months, especially because Jantel Lavender and Cheyenne Parker will be due for new deals next offseason and Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams will become restricted free agents in 2022.

“[The new salary structure] makes you look down the line, two, three years down the line,” Wade said. “I think with the old salary cap and the way it was set up, it was easier because you knew you had a certain ceiling you could go to. But now that ceiling is almost double, so you have to be really smart.”

DeShields, Williams, Lavender, Parker and Katie Lou Samuelson have a combined cap hit of roughly $400,000, leaving the Sky — who have the eighth overall pick in the April draft — with plenty of money to spend in free agency.

With free agency opening Tuesday, here’s a look at the Sky’s free agents:

Courtney Vandersloot, unrestricted free agent (UFA)

The Sky’s top priority is locking down Vandersloot, which shouldn’t be a problem. The point guard has made her intentions to stay in Chicago clear.

“[With] how last season ended, I feel like I owe Chicago a true commitment to them and I told James that after the season,” Vandersloot said. “So there’s nothing up in the air about that. My goal is well known.”

It’s expected that the Sky will designate Vandersloot as a core player, the WNBA equivalent to the NFL’s franchise tag, for the second consecutive year. The core designation would guarantee Vandersloot the maximum base salary for one season.

Allie Quigley, UFA

Quigley is the second-most important free agent for the Sky to re-sign. She played a key role last season, averaging 13.8 points, 3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 28.6 minutes.

At 33, Quigley, a Joliet native and DePaul grad, is still one of the best shooters in the WNBA. She also is married to Vandersloot and the two have planted roots in Chicago, buying a house near the Sky’s practice facility.

Stefanie Dolson, UFA

Dolson has grown as a stretch-five over the last six seasons and has played a part in the overall team chemistry. In 2019, she averaged 9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds.

One problem: She constantly finds herself in foul trouble.

The Sky can go one of two directions with Dolson: They can either re-sign her or look for a cheaper replacement. The latter would make more sense unless Dolson, who made $114,000 in 2019, is willing to accept a similar, short-term deal.

Astou Ndour, restricted free agent (RFA)

The Sky don’t necessarily have to look for an outside candidate to replace Dolson because they have an internal option.

Ndour turned heads over the last 11 games when she started in place of Lavender, who went down with a foot injury. As a starter, the slender 6-5 center averaged 10.7 points (50 percent shooting) and 7.1 rebounds.

With only three-plus seasons of experience, the Sky could get Ndour at a lesser cost than Dolson. And with the upside she has, Ndour, who has continued to improve her perimeter shooting, could have a bigger impact in 2020.

Kahleah Copper, RFA

Copper is an athletic, versatile guard. Wade has said that she would be a starter on many WNBA teams.

Copper added a much-needed boost to the Sky’s second unit in 2019 and could be a Sixth Woman of the Year candidate next season if she continues to improve.

Copper’s future with the Sky depends on the offer sheet she might pick up from other teams. She could be eligible for a max base salary of $185,000, according to Winsidr.com, which would force the Sky to make some difficult decisions.

Jamierra Faulkner, RFA

Wade went with Williams as Vandersloot’s backup for most of last season instead of Faulkner, who missed time recovering from her second knee injury in three years.

Wade, who’s coaching Faulkner at UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, said those injuries are behind her.

And he believes she’s returning to her previous form.

If the Sky re-sign Faulkner to be the backup point guard in 2020, Williams could return to her more natural spot as a three/four.

That would be the best-case scenario for the Sky.

Kayla Alexander, UFA

The Sky signed Alexander to multiple seven-day deals toward the end of last season when Lavender was injured.

With Lavender back, it’s likely Alexander won’t be returning.