November 10, 2021
James Wade, Sky prepping for busy offseason
Chicago won a title, but 'the rent is due every day'
It might be the offseason, but James Wade has stayed busy since leading the Sky to their first WNBA championship.
Chicago’s head coach and general manager recently flew into New Orleans to speak with the Pelicans’ Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, David Griffin, to see how he runs the show in NOLA. Wade has also picked the brains of other NBA mainstays such as Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, Boston Celtics President Brad Stevens and Los Angeles Clippers head coach Ty Lue. If there is a competitive advantage that exists underneath the surface, Wade has proven he will be one of the first to mine it.
Gathering intel from some of the brightest minds in the NBA could prove to be valuable this offseason. For the first time in his tenure with the Sky, Wade will have the salary cap flexibility to mold the roster the way he wants. Chicago only has four players signed through the 2022 season and figuring out who will (and won’t) be a part of the Sky’s long-term future will be crucial.
“The priority will be defining who our core is,” Wade told The Next on Nov. 7. “After that, we have to figure out who complements [the Sky’s core]. Those are the things we are working through right now.”
At the center of the Sky’s core is Kahleah Copper, who ascended to WNBA stardom during the 2021 campaign. Copper capped off her all-star season by being named Finals MVP and ended the postseason scoring more points than any other Sky player in any playoff run in franchise history.
While Copper will enter free agency this offseason, there is a mutual interest between her and the Sky to get a deal done. She concluded her recent article for The Players’ Tribune asking the fan base if it is ready “for another run at this thing,” referring to the championship she led her team to. The question is more about how long she will be back with Chicago, who can offer her a three-year, $705,000 max contract, or if she chooses to go with a shorter deal.
“If Kah tells me, ‘hey, I want to sign for this long,’ then I will say okay and add the years in,” said Wade. “How many teams can say they have the Finals MVP on their roster? We have two of them. You want to keep them as long as they want to play.”
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Signing Copper to any contract is a no-brainer for the Sky’s front office, but the outlook for the rest of the roster is a bit murkier. Annie Costabile of The Chicago Sun-Times reported Allie Quigley is considering retirement while Courtney Vandersloot is going to test free agency for the first time in her career.
During Wade’s tenure, the Sky have struggled without Vanderquigs on the court. In 2020, the Sky had a 9.3 net rating with Vandersloot on the court versus -18.7 when she took a seat. While Chicago was able to handle itself better without their All-WNBA point guard in 2021, the Sky’s offensive rating dipped from 106.5 with Quigley on the floor to 93.2 without her on the court.
Wade pointed to his long history with his backcourt for reasons why he feels confident about being in the loop in regard to their situation. According to him, Wade and Quigley have had discussions at previous points in her career about the possibility of calling it quits. As for Vandersloot, he knows what he needs to do to try to keep the franchise’s greatest player in Sky blue and yellow.
”I tell [the team] the rent is due every day,” said Wade. “The same thing goes for me. It’ll always be in my job description to never take [Vandersloot] for granted. She is testing free agency, which I think is normal. I have to do my part every day to show her why this is the best place for her to be.”
If Quigley does decide to end her storied 13-year career, that might open up the door for Diamond DeShields’ return. According to Wade, the 2018 first round pick indicated during their end of the season meeting she wants to be back with the Sky next season. While offer sheets weren’t discussed this early on in the offseason (DeShields is a restricted free agent), the two had a productive conversation about what she needs to do to improve heading into 2022.
“I know that Diamond wants to get back to a place where she is growing in a way where it matches her expectations,” said Wade.
Even with question marks around the rest of the roster, the Sky’s front office has options to build off its recent playoff success. Chicago will open the season with a devastating front court of Candace Parker, Azurá Stevens and, most likely, Copper and maintains financial flexibility heading into free agency. Title expectations have now been set in a city that has been deprived of championship basketball for over two decades. It’s now on Wade and co. to deliver.
“You can’t have a championship culture without having a championship,” said Wade. “We put a culture in place where we thought would lead us there and now the city is behind us. Now, we are at the beginning of who we are going to be.”