How Candace Parker’s decision dictates the Chicago Sky’s future

Candace Parker delivered on her promise to bring the Chicago Sky their first WNBA title while helping the organization gain prominence. Without Parker, the Sky’s short-term future as a contender falls apart.

At least for now, Sky fans can put off that reality after the two-time champion said Wednesday that she will likely return for her 16th season. Parker told The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch on the “Sports Media Podcast” that if her body is holding up by January and February, nothing will stop her from suiting up for one more season.

“I don’t know if I’ve dribbled my last ball on the court,” Parker said.

The question now is which court she will call home next season. Deitsch reported Parker is most likely to return to Chicago or reunite with the Los Angeles Sparks, the team that drafted her with the No. 1 pick in 2008.

The possibility of Parker suiting up for a third season with the Sky casts a ripple effect through the roster and the rest of the WNBA free agency. She has been candid about her best years being behind her, and every move the Sky front office makes would likely be centered around making the most of the twilight of Parker’s career.

The Sky are in a similar situation to last season with their core players eligible to test the open market. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper all took pay cuts last season to join Parker to chase a repeat. Copper is under contract for one more season, but the status of the rest of the Sky starters for 2023 is up in the air.

Vandersloot, who is third on the WNBA’s all-time assists list, should be the Sky’s No. 1 priority regardless of whether Parker returns. Vandersloot will have suitors when teams can start negotiating with unrestricted free agents. Notably, the Seattle Storm have a point guard vacancy after Sue Bird’s retirement. Vandersloot grew up in Kent, Wash., and told the Tribune in January it would mean a lot to her to play in Seattle at some point.

Sky coach/general manager James Wade should try to prevent that. Opponents struggled to stop the Sky with Vandersloot and Parker on the floor last season. According to Positive Residual’s database, in the 863 minutes the two probably Hall of Famers played together, the Sky had a 13.8 adjusted net rating. What they do on both ends is too important for the Sky to let them walk in free agency if the organization wants to contend in 2023.

Other starters could be looking at the exit door for different reasons. Quigley mulled retiring last offseason and did not sign with an overseas team, citing fatigue. During media exit interviews, Emma Meesseman hinted her time in the WNBA could be up in the air. The league’s new prioritization rule kicks in next year, requiring players with more than two years of WNBA experience to be present on the first day of training camp. Meesseman is from Belgium and could opt to take the summer off.

Azurá Stevens, a key player off the bench, is another free agent teams will likely chase. Wade is known for getting the most out of his post players, and Stevens was no exception. The 6-foot-6 forward drained a career-high 39.2% of her spot-up opportunities last season while recording the most blocks at the rim of any Sky player. Her services would be valuable to any team looking to space the floor without giving up interior defense.

In a perfect world, the Sky would be able to keep all of their veterans for another title chase, but it could come at the expense of the franchise’s future. Dana Evans and Ruthy Hebard indicated they want more playing time next season, but they won’t see an increase in minutes if all of the Sky’s starters return. The Sky could play hardball by keeping them on the roster or pair them with the No. 5 pick in the 2023 draft to see if they can find a deal that makes sense in the short term.

Every iteration of what the 2023 Sky will look like hinges on Parker’s decision. Whatever comes next will determine their immediate fate — whether that means they compete next season or retool for the future.

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