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The defending champions? The reigning champions? Semantics aside, (look, the idea of a title defense honestly just sounds cool and strong, okay) the 2021 WNBA Champion Chicago Sky open their season tonight at Wintrust Arena.
Sky in four. No Ceiling. Skytown. The probability of running it back is high as they look to bring another title to the city of Chicago. The last WNBA team to win back-to-back championships were the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks.
We ask a simple question: Why not?
In Case You Missed It (Not Sure How You’d Miss This, But Here You Go Just in Case)
The Sky finished the 2021 regular season with 16 wins and 16 losses. Injuries to Candace Parker, Allie Quigley, and Azurá Stevens affected the team early in the season. A seven-game losing streak was followed by a seven-game winning streak upon Parker’s return. When it came time to enter the postseason, a sixth-seeded Sky team at full health brought enough vim and vigor to win single-elimination games against the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx. The Sky then cruised through the semi-finals, defeating the Connecticut Sun three games to one, and then pushed the Phoenix Mercury to win it all in four games (ahem, Sky in four, after all) at home in Chicago.
Kahleah Copper took the Finals MVP award home, averaging 17 points and 5.5 rebounds in the series; she also shot 50 percent from the field, and 36.4 percent from beyond the perimeter. The capricious nature of the WNBA postseason format taught us to never count a six-seed out. (The Sky finished fifth in ESPN’s 2021 power rankings.)
In Case You Missed It (There Is No Offseason Edition)
Departing the Sky in the offseason were Astou Ndour-Fall (she’s sitting the 2022 season out), Stefanie Dolson (she signed with the New York Liberty), and Diamond DeShields (she was traded to the Phoenix Mercury, along with Julie Allemand and a 2023 first round draft pick).
The Sky’s offseason needs were identified as a backup point guard, a power forward, and a center. Lexie Brown did not sign her qualifying offer, and was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks for Li Yueru, a 6-foot-7 center from Changzhi, China. Li most recently played for Inner Mongolia in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association, averaging 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
Former WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman was signed to complement the Sky’s front court; not to replace Courtney Vandersloot, but rather take some pressure off Sloot when needed. The concept of mentorship is never lost on this team, and being a backup Candace Parker (at least in leadership ideology) could bring Meesseman into another role. Indeed, Meesseman has done a fantastic job of directing young players in camp, and in the preseason games. The Sky also became the first team in WNBA history to sign three finals MVPs in consecutive seasons; Parker and Copper are the other two.
Azurá Stevens and Ruthy Hebard are expected to step into a bigger role given Stefanie Dolson’s departure, as “Big Mama Stef” was one the Sky’s top defenders.
The Los Angeles Sparks — What’s at Stake?
This is a “double revenge” game for both sides. Candace Parker faces her former team for the first time, since signing with the Sky in the 2020-2021 offseason. She missed last year’s matchup with the Sparks due to missing seven games due to an ankle injury. (The Sky lost all seven games she missed.) Lexie Brown faces the Chicago Sky for the first time since being traded to the Sparks in exchange for the rights to center Li Yueru, on March 30.
Head coach James Wade at the Equal Play event on Thursday hosted by Annie Costabile and the Sun Times announced that the Sky’s game starters will be Dana Evans, Vandersloot, Stevens, Meesseman, and Parker.
What’s The Roster Looking Like?
The Sky’s 11-player roster is pretty much set. Training camp began on April 17, with a league-high 19 players on the roster. With limited roster space and a salary cap that adds a complex variable, camp is highly competitive — and brutal, with talented players arguably all deserving of a roster spot. The lack of expansion has been a common grievance made by fans, whether that’s extra roster spots, or more franchises in the league.
On Thursday, Masseny Kaba, Kathleen Doyle, and Emmanuelle Tahane were waived. Kaela Davis, Kysre Gondrezick, Tina Krajišnik, Anneli Maley, and Sparkle Taylor were all waived on Wednesday. Lindsey Pulliam, Lexi Held, and Imani McGee-Stafford were waived earlier in camp. Being waived doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t return. They will need to clear waivers before they are resigned to hardship contracts. (A team may apply for hardship contracts when you have players that are injured, or are reporting late from other commitments.)
Kahleah Copper will not be available for tomorrow’s game as she is still finishing overseas commitments. Julie Allemand and Rebekah Gardner are wrapping things up overseas as well. Allie Quigley will be out for Friday’s game due to a knee injury. Li Yueru has just received approval from the Chinese Basketball Association to play in the WNBA; she has a passport and is waiting on a visa, and could arrive in Chicago by June.
Tipoff is 7PM CT; the Sky won’t be receiving their rings here, that will be at the May 24 game versus the Indiana Fever. You may purchase tickets for tonight and the rest of the season, which supports Grow the Game, an organization that fosters engagement and participation in womens’ sports. The game will be televised via NBA TV and Marquee. Chicago, it’s time to reach for the Sky.
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