February 4, 2024 

Chicago Sky still have major roster questions after start of WNBA free agency

Sky look to be entering rebuilding mode, but Ogwumike could change that

The aftermath of the first few days of the WNBA free agency signing period has left the Sky with more questions about the roster than answers. As of today, the Sky has eight players under contract for next season: Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey, Elizabeth Williams, Dana Evans, Isabelle Harrison, Sika Kone, Li Yueru and newly signed point guard Lindsay Allen of the Minnesota Lynx.

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Arguably, the biggest roster need heading into free agency was solidifying the starting point guard position. The Sky’s first attempt at addressing this need was on Thursday when they signed 28-year-old free agent point guard Allen to a two-year contract for $90,000 per year.

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What Allen brings to the Sky

Allen was selected with the No. 14 overall in the second round of the 2017 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty. Last season, the six-year veteran Allen took over starting point guard duties for the Lynx and started 20 games before suffering a season-ending injury. In 24.1 minutes per game for Minnesota last season, Allen averaged 6.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and a career-high 4.5 assists per game.

Allen will be a familiar face to some locally because she spent her college career at Notre Dame, where she started all 149 games of her Irish career and holds the record for career assists at 841. She was teammates with Mabrey for two seasons with the Fightin’ Irish. Allen has spent this off-season playing in Turkey with Botas SK, averaging 14.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 0.6 steals in 25 Turkey-KBSL contests.

Allen is a tough, penetrating guard with excellent court vision who should bring veteran point guard experience to the Sky. Additionally, the signing of Allen aligns with the culture that new head coach Teresa Weatherspoon and general manager Jeff Pagliocca are trying to cultivate.

“Lindsay will be a great addition to our roster this season,” Pagliocca said in a statement. “She has grit, tenacity, and a hunger to win — that is the type of player Coach Weatherspoon and I want on our team. We cannot wait to welcome Lindsay to Chicago.”

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How much did the Sky miss out in WNBA free agency?

There is an argument to be made the eighth-place Sky are among the major losers of the free agency period thus far. The Sky lost both two starters from last year’s team — guard Courtney Williams and starting forward Alanna Smith — to the Minnesota Lynx in free agency. Last season, Williams averaged a career-high 6.3 assists. After a breakout season, Smith finished third in voting for the Most Improved Player award last year and statistically did a little of everything for the team.

The Sky also still have all three reserved players formally unsigned and two more players who ended their contracts suspended. The Sky also held the suspended contract expired rights to Astou Ndour-Fall and, instead of facilitating a trade for even a nominal return, let her walk away for nothing as the forward signed with the Connecticut Sun.

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And perhaps no team in the WNBA has swung and missed on essentially every big-name unrestricted free agent available on the market harder than the Sky. Chicago had significant interest in six-time All Star Skylar Diggins-Smith, even meeting with Diggins-Smith via Zoom. But the South Bend, Indiana native decided to join forces with former college teammate Jewell Loyd and sign a major deal with the Seattle Storm.

Chicago didn’t land other top point guards either, as Natasha Cloud, an available championship point guard, signed with the Phoenix Mercury and Jordin Canada, who finished second in voting for Most Improved Player, was signed-and-traded to the Atlanta Dream. Meanwhile, veterans such as Layshia Clarendon re-signed from their respective teams.  

As other teams are opening brand new practice facilities, one has to believe the delay in the construction of a new Sky practice facility surely did not aid the free agent recruitment process, as well as the fact that the Sky are in a transitional period regarding team leadership. Of course, there’s still one big free agent name still on the market is former Sparks MVP forward Nneka Ogwumike, and ESPN and her sister Chiney reported that the Sky are a finalist for Nneka Ogwumike, in addition to the Storm and the Liberty.

Will Allen or Evans be the starting point guard?

Heading into the off-season, the Sky had to decide how to move forward with the starting point guard position. This past season, the Sky has invested heavily in wing players like Copper and Mabrey and was in search of a consistent playmaker to orchestrate the offense.

Entering February, it seemed like the Sky could choose between signing a top free agent like Diggins-Smith, re-sign Williams long-term or elevating fourth-year guard Evans to the starting point guard role. By signing a capable veteran in Allen, deciphering Chicago’s intention for who Weatherspoon wants to run the point whether she was signed to be the starting point guard moving forward or if Weatherspoon will allow Evans the opportunity to run the show.

How highly Weatherspoon and Pagliocca think of Evans’s tenacity and what she brings to both sides of the court are well-documented. Is now the time to give Evans a shot at the starting point guard position? Or will Weatherspoon opt to go with the veteran player who started half the season for the Lynx last year?

Is it time to rebuild?

Ultimately, the signing of Allen may signal a preference for the in-house player development of homegrown Chicago Sky players. This should not surprise Sky fans as the organization made it clear with the hiring of Weatherspoon and Pagliocca that they were going to invest heavily in making player development and make it a significant aspect of the team’s recruitment strategy.

But with the signing of Allen, the departure of Smith and Williams in free agency and the inability to attract All-Star level talent during this free agency cycle, it sure seems like the Sky are close to entering a rebuilding phase. If Ogwumike chooses Seattle or New York, they may not have any other choice.

But with the current roster as-is, the Sky are effectively placing their bets that a non-Copper to develop into an All-Star next to the former Finals MVP. Based on her salary and what the Sky gave up to get her, Mabrey is perhaps best suited to take that leap this upcoming season. The Sky are hoping the signing of Allen can unlock Mabrey’s All-Star potential. Arguably, the immediate future of the franchise depends on it.

Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.

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Written by Monique Newton

Monique Newton is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University. She covers the Chicago Sky for The Next and has lived in Chicago since 2019. An Oberlin College graduate, Monique is a 2x Division III National Track and Field Champion.

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