January 15, 2021 

Chicago Sky extend James Wade through 2025

What does Wade’s past say about Chicago’s future?

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Chicago Sky head coach and general manager James Wade is here to stay after signing a four-year contract extension through 2025.

“James has done a remarkable job of establishing a winning environment, culture, and team camaraderie,” Sky Owner Michael Alter said in a press release. “He is an excellent teacher and coach, both on and off the court. This well-deserved extension represents continuity for our team and we are proud to have James lead us forward.”

Wade led the franchise to a 32-24 record in his first two seasons at the helm, including back-to-back postseason appearances and a 2019 WNBA Coach of the Year award. He’ll pass Pokey Chatman as the longest-tenured Sky head coach if he finishes out his contract in Chicago.

The extension should solidify the Sky as one of the most stable franchises in the city. Of the major Chicago sports teams, only the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars have posted a better single-season winning percentage in the past two years.

“I feel like I found a home,” Wade said in a press release. “I truly appreciate the organization for trusting in me and seeing me as a part of their future. I feel extremely fortunate and am excited to lead this franchise to what we hope will be many successful seasons to come.”

Wade’s culture change was apparent from the get-go his first year, with players buying in immediately. Chicago, coming off of a 13-21 season, posted the franchise’s third-winningest regular season ever, a 20-14 finish culminating in a heartbreaking second-round playoff exit. 

Chicago entered last season with championship aspirations, but a rash of injuries and a struggling defense led to a 12-10 finish and a first-round exit. Wade should continue to foster a competitive culture and a dynamite offensive philosophy next season with a healthy roster, although the defense needs work.

How he manages lineups and play style later in his contract as stars like Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot enter the twilight of their careers will define both his and the Sky’s future.

As a general manager, Wade has kept most of his core intact, but he hasn’t shied away from big moves or tinkering with the edges of his roster.

In 2019, the Sky selected Katie Lou Samuelson with the fourth pick in the draft, ahead of where most mock drafts slated the UConn forward. Wade then traded a second-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Sparks for forward Jantel Lavender in an effort to bring championship experience and a steady hand to the team’s frontcourt.

Lavender started 22 games for Chicago and provided solid play on both ends of the floor before going down with a season-ending injury. Samuelson, on the other hand, struggled to earn playtime and only averaged seven minutes per game.

The following offseason, Wade traded Samuelson and the Sky’s 2021 first-round draft pick (which became the No. 7 pick) for Dallas Wings forward Azurá Stevens. He also dealt Astou Ndour, who enjoyed a breakout series of games after Lavender went down, to the Dallas Wings in exchange for the Phoenix Mercury’s 2021 first-round pick (which became the No. 8 pick).

Neither Ndour nor Samuelson made a huge impact on a crowded frontcourt for the rebuilding Wings last season, but Stevens’ fingerprints were all over much of Chicago’s success in the Wubble. If she can stay healthy—a big if considering she’s missed 31 games in three seasons—she should be a key part of the Sky’s future.

Wade also selected Ruthy Hebard that offseason with the No. 8 pick in the draft. Hebard improved throughout her 2020 campaign and figures to be a solid figure for Chicago in the coming years.

Arguably the biggest move of Wade’s young career as GM, however, was to retain Kahleah Copper, a move made possible by the Ndour trade. Copper had the best season of her career, proving herself as a bonafide starter and keeping the Sky’s season alive after Sky guard Diamond DeShields and Stevens went out with injury.

He’ll need to hit in free agency again both this offseason and next to keep Chicago’s bright future burning.

Cheyenne Parker is the only major free agent Chicago needs to find cap room for this year, but the Sky will have at least eight players eligible to enter free agency next year. DeShields, Quigley, and Vandersloot, all All-Stars in 2019, are among that free agency class.

The Sky organization has put its confidence in Wade with this extension—and he’s earned that confidence. The next two years will show if that confidence can pay dividends through championships.

Written by Nick Niendorf

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