January 4, 2023 

2023 WNBA free agency preview: Chicago Sky

Will Vanderquigs and Candace Parker return to Chicago?

The Chicago Sky front office is no stranger to adversity.

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Last season, it found itself in position to potentially lose its core coming off a championship. Instead, the front office put together an offseason for the ages. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper committed to the team for another year, and the Sky were able to acquire Emma Meesseman, Julie Allemand and Rebekah Gardner. The 2022 season didn’t end the way the organization had hoped, but the front office gave the team its best chance at winning its second championship in as many years.

Chicago now finds itself at a pivot point for the franchise: Will it be able to field another championship-caliber team or retool to be competitive in the future? That will be determined by how well it does in free agency. Here are five questions the front office will have to answer over the next couple of months.

How much interest does Candace Parker have in playing somewhere other than Chicago?

Candace Parker made her intentions of playing another year in the WNBA known when she told The Athletic‘s Richard Deitsch she is “game” for returning for her 16th season. Parker said in the past the only teams she would consider playing for are the Sky or the Los Angeles Sparks, the team that drafted her with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008.

Despite retirement talks ahead of last season, Parker fended off Father Time again in 2022. She was voted to the All-WNBA First Team after averaging 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game and propelled the Sky to a plus-8.5 net rating when she was on the floor. Parker and her leadership have also been the perfect complement to James Wade’s coaching style as the veteran served as an unofficial coach on the floor in her two seasons in Chicago.

The future Hall of Famer isn’t going to come back for another year if she doesn’t think she can win another title. Los Angeles is an intriguing option with all of the cap space it has to work with and the proximity it offers to Parker and her family. However, if Wade is able to keep the same group (or close to it) as he had last year, the Sky might be the best place for her to get another ring. It’s up to the front office to build a roster that will keep Parker in Chicago.

What are the Sky’s backup plans if Courtney Vandersloot signs elsewhere?

Vandersloot, Chicago’s longest-tenured player, is once again primed to test free agency. The three-time WNBA All-Star’s minutes were down last season to keep her fresh for the playoffs, but her impact was just as significant compared to past years. Per PBP Stats, she created as many points off of assists as other elite ball-handlers in significantly fewer minutes:

PlayerAssist Points CreatedTotal Minutes Played
Natasha Cloud5631,071
Sabrina Ionescu5481,163
Alyssa Thomas4971,154
Chelsea Gray4871,039
Courtney Vandersloot464849
Kelsey Plum4411,182
Source: PBP Stats

There is no replacement for a player like Vandersloot. If she leaves the only franchise she has ever played for, there aren’t a lot of promising options in free agency that could fill the void. The Sky’s internal options include Dana Evans, who told The Next that she is ready for the next step in her career, and third-year guard Julie Allemand.

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It’s important to point out that Vandersloot could very well end up back in a Chicago Sky uniform in 2023. Her connection to Washington State and the Seattle area alone won’t be enough to land her with the Storm (a pairing many have predicted after she took a meeting with the franchise following the 2021 playoffs). Breanna Stewart, Vandersloot’s former teammate on UMMC Ekaterinburg, is an unrestricted free agent. If the former MVP isn’t back in the mix, Seattle becomes a significantly less attractive destination for Vandersloot.

Anything can happen come February. Chicago needs to prepare for every scenario, which includes Vandersloot’s potential departure.

Can the Sky convince Emma Meesseman to stay in the WNBA?

Speaking of former members of UMMC Ekaterinburg, re-signing Meesseman has to be at the top of the Sky’s priorities heading into January. The former Mystic quietly put together one of the best seasons in the WNBA last year and was unfathomably efficient in the post. According to Synergy Sports Tech, Meesseman converted 75.7% of her 140 shot attempts at the rim. To put that into perspective, her 1.513 points per possession on such attempts ranked in the 100th percentile among players who had attempted at least 20 of those shots.

Meesseman has the ability to hit from anywhere on the court and makes moves like the one below seem elementary.

Meesseman also fit well next to Parker in 2022. In the 802 minutes those two were on the floor together, the Sky had a plus-13.6 net rating. That number jumped to 17.6 in 180 fourth-quarter minutes. Parker’s finesse paired with Meesseman’s physicality on both ends of the floor did wonders for the Sky in 2022.

Losing Meesseman would be an enormous loss for Chicago. She told the media during exit interviews that the league’s new prioritization rule could impact her — and other European players’ — status for the 2023 season. The Sky hope that won’t be the case.

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Will Allie Quigley retire or return for a 15th season?

According to Annie Costabile of the Chicago Sun-Times, Quigley hasn’t made a decision about her future in the WNBA. The Sky’s all-time leader in scoring opted not to play overseas this offseason, citing much-deserved rest after competing 11 months out of the year since 2008.

Quigley has excelled in every role the Sky have asked her to take on since her arrival in 2013. After becoming a WNBA champion, three-time All-Star and two-time Sixth Woman of the Year, no one would blame her if she decided to call it a career. Quigley’s numbers dipped in 2022, but her five-year stretch from 2017-21 is something that few players in league history have ever accomplished. During that span, she shot 42% from deep, 52% on 2-pointers and 89.6% from the free-throw line. Quigley has done everything for the Sky and more.

If she retires, the Sky can try to make up her production in-house. Gardner has proven she can start in the WNBA, while Evans’ shot-making ability would be valuable after losing an assassin like Quigley. She will have a spot on the roster if she decides to come back, but next season is going to be longer than it has ever been. Whether it’s worth getting hit by opponents off the ball and staying in shape to run around the perimeter 20 to 30 minutes a night will be up to her.

What kind of contract will Azurá Stevens command?

Chicago had an embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt last year, being able to throw out two of Parker, Meeseman and Azurá Stevens at a time for 40 minutes. That luxury most likely has come to an end as Stevens heads into free agency after a stellar 2022 campaign. She improved as a shooter, knocking down 39.2% of her 130 spot-up attempts, per Synergy Sports Tech. Stevens also continued to be an elite rim protector and led the league with 30 blocks at the rim.

Most importantly for Stevens’ young career, she played 35 games after battling lower leg injuries for most of her time in the WNBA. Her durability will certainly drive up her value when teams come calling this winter. Minnesota, Seattle (depending on Stewart’s situation) and Atlanta could all use a player like Stevens.

If Chicago loses one or both of Parker and Meesseman, it should turn to Stevens to get a deal done. She has proven she can be a valuable contributor on a championship team and has the stretchability Wade loves from his bigs. Stevens has earned a multi-year deal and will most likely get one from some team.

Written by James Kay

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