Don't call it a rebuild: Chicago Sky coach Wade thinks team can be competitive despite massive roster turnover
Google defines the word "rebuild" this way: Build something again after it has been destroyed or damaged.
Well, on paper that phrase seems to fit the Sky. Heading into the new WNBA season, just two of the Sky's top nine scorers from last season are still on the team.
Candace Parker signed with Las Vegas, Courtney Vandersloot with New York, Azura Stevens with Los Angeles. Allie Quigley retired. Emma Meesseman decided not to play in the WNBA this year.
In the NBA, a rebuild means hoarding draft picks, trading all the good players and making yourself comfortable in the basement.
Sky coach and general manager James Wade did the opposite. He kept the team's best player, Kahleah Copper, and traded two draft picks to land point guard Marina Mabrey from Dallas.
Before anyone in Chicago dreams of drafting Caitlin Clark or Angel Reese next year, remember the Sky's first-round pick has already left town.
So what is going on here? A reporter suggested retool might be a better word.
"You all want to call it re-something," Wade said with a laugh. "So retool is good."
Wade did a nice job explaining the plan. Parker and Vandersloot were more recognizable names, but Copper, a 6-foot-1 forward, was the team's leading scorer the past two years - when the Sky won the 2021 WNBA title and posted the best record in franchise history last season at 26-10.
"We didn't want to go into a rebuild because it's not fair to Kah and it's not interesting," Wade said. "We said, 'OK, now we have to find a new identity that's going to fit Kah.
"I felt like that's what we did. I felt like there's enough talent to do that in the league. I don't think rebuilds are necessary in the WNBA."
So Wade spent a couple draft picks to acquire Mabry, a former Notre Dame guard. To make a different NBA comparison, maybe a good match for Copper and Mabry are Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox, a dynamic duo that led the Sacramento Kings to a surprising third-place finish in the Western Conference.
Mabrey, 26, averaged 13.6 points and 3.7 assists last year with Dallas, her first season as a full-time starter. So maybe the Sky is taking a leap of faith, but Wade has a kind of a secret history with Mabrey, from his days as an assistant coach in Russia with UMMC Ekaterinburg.
"We were undefeated and we were playing against the worst team in the league, Riga," Wade recalled. "(Mabrey) had just got off the plane like the night before and she kicked our butts and they beat us. That was our first loss and their first win. She's been that type of explosive player when she gets going."
Mabrey just finished playing in Italy and was expected to arrive in Chicago Thursday. She led Schio to the Italian league championship, scoring 37 points in the final game.
Last month, Schio advanced to the women's EuroLeague Final Four, where ironically they lost in the semifinals to Fenerbahce, a team with Vandersloot, Meesseman and Vandersloot's new Liberty teammate Breanna Stewart.
The Sky roster includes a few more holdovers. Rebekah Gardner was a 32-year-old WNBA rookie last season after spending 10 years overseas. Five-foot-6 guard Dana Evans is vying to take on a larger role.
Six-foot-4 forward Ruthy Hebard, the team's 2020 first-round pick, gave birth to a son Xzavier, on April 11 and is working to get back to playing shape.
Wade was active in free agency. The most accomplished addition is 5-8 guard Courtney Williams, who was an all-star with Atlanta two years ago. Other notable newcomers are 6-3 forward Isabelle Harrison, 6-4 Alanna Smith, 6-3 forward Elizabeth Williams and draft pick Kayana Traylor, a 5-9 guard from Virginia Tech.
"We have a lot of players with chips on their shoulder that left situations where they thought they probably could have been better fitted," Wade said. "I felt like if they can take their chip and take ours and put it together, we can probably retool into something really good."
Wade seems to carry a chip on his shoulder to continue a successful run. The Sky managed just three winning seasons in its first 13 years of existence. Wade has produced four straight non-losing seasons since he took over in 2019.
"I am not the Candace Parker of coaching, I know that," he said, half-jokingly. "My coaching style ... is in your face and it's gritty. That's what we're going to try to be I guess."
The preseason opener is Friday in Dallas. The Sky will host Indiana for their second exhibition on Sunday at Wintrust Arena.
The season opener is May 19 at Minnesota.