January 28, 2021
Candace Parker joining the Sky: The biggest signing in Chicago basketball history
Here's how Parker makes James Wade's crew a championship contender
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Two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker has agreed to join the Chicago Sky after 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. The Next reported on Tuesday that Parker and the Sky were in talks.
It’s a storybook timeline for a basketball hub like Chicago: one of its own, a future Hall of Famer and all-time talent, returning home to bring its team a title.
No other city, save New York City, can lay claim to being the epicenter of the basketball world like Chicago can. From His Airness to “Hoop Dreams,” Cappie to Yolanda, Simeon to Marshall, Chicago’s imprint on basketball is undeniable. But the list of big free agent signings in Chicago basketball history is an unimpressive one, especially as of late.
Pau Gasol signed with the Bulls in 2014 and had an All-Star year, but it was far from a blockbuster landing. The free agency acquisitions of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade were memorable only for all the things that went wrong.
The Sky’s most talented players have generally come via the draft or a trade — Allie Quigley is a notable exception, but Quigley had bounced around the league, scrapping for minutes before landing in Chicago at age 27. There just haven’t been franchise-level signings despite the city’s intense love of the sport.
At least until now.
Parker may not be at her absolute peak, but she’s coming off an All-WNBA year in which she averaged 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. While her Defensive Player of the Year award was controversial — she didn’t make either All-WNBA Defensive team — there’s no arguing she’ll be a massive boost to Chicago’s defense.
Star power still rules supreme in basketball and Parker brings it in spades. An offense that finished second and fourth in offensive rating in 2019 and 2020, respectively, just added one of the most dynamic players in the sport.
An injection of talent doesn’t always produce results right away, however. Seemingly flawless fits can start clunkily and players need time to adjust — whether the time needed is weeks or seasons will be crucial given Chicago’s championship timeframe. But still, it’s harder to find a better big-name fit for Chicago than Parker.
As much as the Parker signing is a fairytale story for the city, it’s an even more unbelievable start to free agency for Wade, whose contract was extended through 2025 earlier this month.
As of now, it looks like Wade will roll out a starting lineup of Courtney Vandersloot, Quigley, Diamond DeShields, Azurá Stevens and Parker.
Point God arguments aside, Vandersloot will be the best passer Parker has ever played with. Both players’ lives should be easier next season: Vandersloot has an elite pick-and-roll partner who can also spread the floor and Parker should be getting some of the best looks of her career.
Defenses will continue to try and disrupt Quigley off the ball and smother her on it, but the addition of Parker will make that a lot more difficult to do. Quigley should see a lot fewer defenses schemed like this:
She’ll still need to find the open shooter when she is doubled, but the consequences for defenses that focus their attention on the career 39.2% 3-point shooter will be greater this time around.
Parker will also take some of the pressure off DeShields to have a bounceback year after DeShields dealt with injuries all of last season. After an All-WNBA selection in 2019, the 6’1 DeShields struggled in her third year, playing 13 games and a career-low in minutes before exiting the Wubble.
Vandersloot and Parker will presumably be the first and second points of attack next season, freeing up DeShields to work more off the ball. If healthy, she should still be an invaluable off-the-dribble threat — there will just be less pressure on her to carry scoring for the Sky than in 2019.
Last year Stevens shared a defensive front court with Cheyenne Parker and Stefanie Dolson. All signs point to Cheyenne Parker leaving the Sky for the Atlanta Dream, with The Next reporting Tuesday that the two were in talks and Khristina Williams reporting Wednesday that Parker is heading to Atlanta. Dolson is still with the Sky for now but would be a likely trade candidate for Chicago to free up cap space to sign Candace Parker and add cheaper depth elsewhere.
In either case, Candace Parker is a marked improvement on defense over either player, and Stevens should be able to showcase more of her own ability as a defender next season. She’ll also benefit from the offensive attention Parker commands and should be on the receiving end of plenty of dump-off passes near the paint and open looks on the perimeter.
Like DeShields, health is a major concern for Stevens, and the Sky could be pretty thin in the front court if Stevens misses any time next year. Parker also battled injuries In Los Angeles that hampered her performance in 2019. Ruthy Hebard, who had a promising rookie season last year, would be in line to fill in for either player should injuries occur, as would Dolson and fourth-year forward Stephanie Mavunga.
It’s a gamble worth making to acquire a player like Parker. With Kahleah Copper and Gabby Williams as the first players off the bench, Chicago’s seven-player rotation will be top-tier in the league next year. Dolson or Hebard as No. 8 in the rotation rounds out a formidable frontcourt.
Parker will turn 35 in 2021, as will Quigley. Vandersloot will be 32 in February. The Sky’s championship window will only be open for so long.
But the fact that it’s open at all is something Chicagoans haven’t seen in quite some time.
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