Women's watch: No playoff run for Sky, but teamwork showed
The personalities, and the fast friendships.
That's what second-year Chicago Sky forward Kahleah Copper is going to miss now that the team's season has officially come to an end.
"Everyone is so different, but we got closer even though we all just met each other," said Copper, after the Sky lost its regular season finale to the Seattle Storm at Allstate Arena on Sunday, 85-80.
Copper came to Chicago during the off-season in a trade for former Sky star Elena Delle Donne, but settled in quickly and eventually became a starter and a team favorite.
"To get to know each other and have that family feeling was really good," Copper said. "I'm going to miss that."
The Sky, which started the season 1-7 and then was 3-12, rebounded with a strong middle of the season and was actually in position to make the playoffs as late as Wednesday. But three straight losses to end the season dashed those hopes.
It will be the first time in four years that the Sky won't be in the postseason, which includes the top eight teams in the WNBA.
Two of the Sky's last three games were against teams (Dallas and Seattle) that were also fighting for their playoff lives. Both of those games were intense battles for the Sky, which is what point guard Courtney Vandersloot is going to miss about playing in the WNBA.
Most players, including Vandersloot, play overseas during the off-season to supplement their incomes. While the leagues there are good, the WNBA is at a completely different level.
"I'm going to miss the competitiveness of this league," said Vandersloot, who set the WNBA's single-season assist average record with 8.1 assists per game for the season. That beat the old record of 8 assists per game by Ticha Penicheiro, set during the 2002 season. "Game in and game out, it's a battle and it's a fight and you're playing with and against the best players in the world. It's amazing some of the plays that are made over here in every game. It's incredible to see records broken, huge plays made, that's what I'll miss the most."
Speaking of records, the Sky got another record in addition to Vandersloot's individual assist record. The Sky set the WNBA's all-time record for assists in a season by a team with 718. That broke the previous record of 706 set by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2012 season.
Meanwhile, two other big WNBA records came crashing down this season. Seattle point guard Sue Bird, who did not dress for the Sky game on Sunday in order to rest up for the playoffs, became the league's all-time leader in career assists. And earlier in the season, Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi became the WNBA's all-time leading scorer.
From here to there:
The Sky made a remarkable surge during the middle of the season, considering its rocky start and some setbacks that were beyond anyone's control.
Not only was the Sky missing leading scorer Allie Quigley, who was late to Chicago due to a strong playoff run by her overseas team, Vandersloot was also late due to the success of her team, which won the Turkish League championship. Vanderslot was even called back to Turkey early in the Sky season to fulfill some obligations with the national team there.
Quigley missed three games and Vandersloot missed seven games.
With Quigley and Vandersloot in and out, there was a clear incohesiveness at times in the Sky backcourt to start the season.
On top of that, backup point guard Jamierra Faulkner was already out for the season with a knee injury.
And speaking of injuries, forward Alaina Coates, the Sky's first-round draft pick, was out with an injury as well. She missed the entire season.
"I'm very proud of this team for their togetherness and their resiliency," Sky coach Amber Stocks said. "To start the season and be 3-12 and then in July and August to turn that around and today to be fighting for 10-9, that was a big turnaround. It takes maturity, professionalism, hunger and a lot of teamwork and togetherness. The way this team fought and played hard, they are fabulous teammates."
Sky coach and general manger Amber Stocks has all kinds of opportunities to reconstruct the team in the off-season.
She will be getting players such as Faulkner and Coates back, and she has two first-round draft picks that were acquired through trades this season.
College basketball's senior class is relatively strong, so Stocks could go young and get some big-time talent. Or she could bundle those picks and try to bring a marquee veteran to Chicago through a trade.
"In order for us to get off to a great start next year, we can't constantly try to re-invent the wheel," Stocks said. "I'm specifically going to target players who play well with (the players currently on the roster). Players who will play within our system, the same system that allowed us to set a WNBA record for assists in a season.
"We're not building an all-star team here, we're building a championship team and we need players who will complement the team so that next season we're picking up where we are now, not starting over."
And yet, in terms of trading away the picks for a veteran, Stocks says she is still open to it.
"Everything is on the table. I'm open-minded," Stocks said.
The Sky had as much as a 10-point lead against Seattle but couldn't finish out with a victory.
Copper topped the Sky (12-22) with 18 points, giving her 17 or more points in three of the Sky's last four games.
Quigley and Vandersloot finished with 16 and 15 points respectively and Vandersloot hit her league-leading assist average with 8 assists.
Seattle forward Breanna Stewart led the Storm (15-19) with a game-high 29 points while former Niles West and Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd finished with 25 points for Seattle.
Sunday's game against Seattle was the Sky's last game at Allstate Arena.
After an eight-year stint in Rosemont, the team is relocating to the South Loop of Chicago to play at Wintrust Arena next season.
Wintrust Arena is a new, state-of-the-art stadium that will also be home to the DePaul men's and women's basketball teams.
"Everyone here really bought into our team," Stocks said of the Allstate staff. "We got constant compliments about the environment here at Allstate."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw