Diamond DeShields will be key to Sky’s success in 2020 after team re-signs core

“We should be competing for a championship,” Vandersloot said. “We’d be selling ourselves short if we weren’t [talking about] a championship run.”

SHARE Diamond DeShields will be key to Sky’s success in 2020 after team re-signs core
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The new collective-bargaining agreement allowed for the most player movement in league history. But while many high-profile players switched teams, the Sky’s stars stayed put.

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The playoffs are no longer a goal for the Sky. They’re an expectation. That leaves winning the franchise’s first championship as the next item on their agenda.

But did the Sky do enough in free agency to make them serious title contenders?

The new collective-bargaining agreement allowed for the most player movement in league history. But while many high-profile players switched teams, the Sky’s stars stayed put.

The team re-signed cornerstones Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson to two-year contracts that actually decrease in value in 2021, giving general manager James Wade flexibility next offseason.

Wade made only two additions, signing point guard Sydney Colson, with the expectation she’ll back up Vandersloot, and trading 2019 first-round pick Katie Lou Samuelson for power forward Azura Stevens, a cheaper alternative to Astou Ndour, whom the Sky signed and traded to the Wings for a 2021 first-round pick.

Other than that, the Sky’s roster and starting lineup look identical to last season, when the team finished fifth overall, and Wade doesn’t see a problem with that.

“We put together a team where we’re going to be very hard to beat,” he said.

By not recruiting outside talent, the Sky are sending the message that they’re going all-in on guard Diamond DeShields in hopes she goes from being an All-Star in 2019 to an MVP candidate in 2020. And DeShields, who proclaimed she’s “the best guard in the league” on national television this month, believes that’s possible.

DeShields is coming off a breakout season, averaging a team-high 16.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in the regular season. In the playoffs, she averaged a league-high 24 points in two games.

The Sky expect her to be even better this season.

“She’s a special player, and the difference between the first year and then the second year was exponential,” Vandersloot said. “She’s coming into her own, she knows what she’s really good at, which is a lot. And we’re just going to ride off her, and hopefully she takes us further and further each year.”

The Sky spent training camp and the early part of last season adjusting to Wade’s expectations and establishing team chemistry. This year, they hope to pick up where they left off.

“It helps that we have a lot of the same team coming back,” Vandersloot said. “Last year, we were all kind of like, ‘OK, we want this culture, but is it going to happen? Is it gonna happen fast?’ There was so much in the air, like, what was James gonna be like? And that’s what’s so great about this year. We have a lot of the same team with just a few new players, and we know what to expect from James and James knows what to expect from us.”

And what are those expectations?

“We should be competing for a championship,” Vandersloot said. “We’d be selling ourselves short if we weren’t [talking about] a championship run.”

NOTE: Don’t expect 2019 third-round pick Maria Conde to be with the Sky this season, Wade said. Though she has expressed an interest in joining the team, there isn’t room on the roster.

Wade also sees a benefit to Conde playing for Spain’s senior national team.

“We’re going to be patient with [her],” he said. “And right now, numbers-wise, it would be kind of difficult for her or our No. 8 pick to both make the team.”

Conde is averaging 17.1 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in EuroCup play with CCC Polkowice in Poland. She also is shooting 50 percent from three-point range.

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