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Projecting the 2024 Chicago Sky roster

3 months agoKarli Bell

Before conversations about the roster could happen, the Sky had to find their new head coach and general manager. They inked Teresa Weatherspoon to be their next head coach, and she’s already starting to see what she wants her 2024 roster to look like.

“What I see is a lot of positivity in the gifts that we have,” Weatherspoon said to Marquee Sports Network. “So many different ways that they can bring greatness to the floor. It’s not just one way they bring so many different different ways of being an assassin, and that’s what you look for. Then you look for the pieces to add to that, and to the culture that we’re building.”

With the front office positions now locked in after the hiring of Jeff Pagliocca as the general manager, the roster has more form than years past. The Sky locked down their 3-time All-Star and 2021 Finals MVP in Kahleah Copper through 2025 with a contract extension.

What about everyone else?

As it stands, the Sky have 5 players under contract to return for the 2024 season: Copper, Marina Mabrey, Dana Evans, Isabelle Harrison and Elizabeth Williams. 

The rest of the roster is up for grabs with Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith as unrestricted free agents and Ruthy Hebard as a restricted free agent. Morgan Bertsch, Robyn Parks and Rebekah Gardner are reserved players. Sika Koné and Li Yueru are unprotected players.

A reserved player is a player with three years of service or less in the league that receives a qualifying offer, giving the player’s prior team exclusive negotiating rights. 

Unprotected players are players that have contracts without any base salary protection. These players can be cut at any time and are only owed their prorated salary for the time they were on the regular season roster.

Players can also be restricted or unrestricted free agents. Unrestricted free agents are players who have five or more years of service with expired contracts. Players with less than five years experience can also become unrestricted if they do not receive a qualifying offer.

Restricted free agents are players with four years of service who receive qualifying offers. The RFA gives the prior team the right to sign the player by matching an offer from another team. If the team doesn’t match the offer, the player will sign with the offering team.

One other note to keep an eye on this offseason is the new restrictions regarding the prioritization rule. The rule went into effect heading into the 2023 season where players with more than two years of WNBA experience must report to their team by the start of training camp or May 1st, whichever came later. If they missed the start of training camp, they were fined. If they missed the start of the regular season, they were suspended for the year.

In 2024, the restrictions get tougher. If players don’t report to the start of training camp, they will be suspended for the whole season.

Who the Sky should bring back

While the Sky’s 18-22 record for the 2023 season wasn’t a pretty one, there was a lot of growth and foundation set with this roster. Copper’s leadership was tested with the roster that she helped create, and the glimmers of chemistry and winning showed at the end of the season.

One of the biggest contributors to that was Smith. She stepped into a starting spot after Bertsch went down with an ankle injury and Smith made that spot hers for the rest of the season. From playing only 9 games in the WNBA in 2022 to solidifying herself as a starter just a year later, Smith showed that she should be a long-term factor in the W with her grit, physicality and versatility on both ends of the floor. If the Sky don’t resign her, Smith has set herself up for teams fighting for her talent for 2024.

Unfortunately, Gardner was robbed of showcasing her defensive prowess with a foot injury three games into the season that sidelined her for all of 2023. However, her impressive 2022 rookie season is proof enough that she should return for the Chicago Sky.

As an unprotected player, Koné’s future is up in the air but she found great confidence in the latter half of the 2023 season, leading to an uptick in her minutes. The 20-year-old still has a lot of growth that needs to happen, but the raw talent is there. She provides size, length and versatile scoring ability while also causing disruption defensively. She has the ability to become a two-way player – something that is hard to find in the WNBA.

Looking ahead to the 2024 WNBA Draft

When the Chicago Sky acquired Mabrey in 2023, they lost about all of their draft picks for 2024, the option to swap first round picks with the Dallas Wings in 2025 and their 2nd round 2025 draft pick went to the Phoenix Mercury.

The 2024 draft class is loaded with top tier talent, such as Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Cameron Brink to name a few. However, everyone in this draft class entered college for the 2020-21 season, meaning they all have the COVID-19 waiver to play a fifth season in the NCAA.

With that waiver option and the creation of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, there’s a lot of discussion on whether or not these players will declare for the draft. NIL deals alone are creating more income for these players in college than a WNBA rookie contract.  

For example, Reese has increased her NIL value to up to $1.3 million and Clark’s is set at $751,000 for the 2024 NCAAW season. A WNBA rookie contract ranges from $68,000 to $74,000 depending on where the player was picked in the draft.

Fans won’t know which prospects will be available until after the NCAAW Final Four in April, but there’s a high likelihood that a majority of these players will take their extra year of eligibility and continue to play in college.

Who’s on the free agent market?

While draft picks for Chicago are slim, the free agent market for 2024 is filled with some interesting names, mostly among guards and forwards – two positions the Sky need to fill for the upcoming season.

Within the guards, the Sky should do anything and everything to go get Skylar Diggins-Smith. The South Bend native and Notre Dame alum voiced all season that she does not intend to stay with the Phoenix Mercury, noting tensions and lack of use of practice facilities while training to return from maternity leave.

Not only would this be a homecoming for the Midwesterner, her style of play fits in perfectly with the fast-paced, defensive driven basketball the Sky love to play. In her 2022 season, she was a Top 3 scorer (19.7 ppg) and Top 10 in steals (1.5 spg) and assists (5.5 apg) in the WNBA. She led her team in scoring and assists and was second in steal rate.

Her stats alone are impressive, but it’s her fast hands and feet that can keep up with a younger Sky team that wants to fly up and down the floor. Her stealing ability leads to transitional offense, something the Sky wanted to do all season long. Regardless of whether or not the Sky re-sign Courtney Williams, Diggins-Smith should be the top priority in free agency.

As for the forward position, the Sky need to add a bit more size to their roster. When Bertsch went down while Hebard was on maternity leave, the tallest player was Elizabeth Williams standing at 6-foot-3 as a center. Adding size, length and height to the front court should be a focal area.

One player that can slide right in and also brings some speed is the 6-foot-4 center/forward Megan Gustafson from the Phoenix Mercury. In her last two years in the desert, she’s found her offensive confidence inside the paint while also crashing the boards. She’s spent the last year learning under Brittney Griner and it showed with 2023 being her best year across all statistical categories. 

The 26-year-old would give Williams the ability to gain more rest minutes and not have the Sky in a panic when it comes to their post play. That was the case for a majority of 2023 for Chicago, seeing that the Sky’s plus/minus was -1.6 when Williams was on the bench. Adding that size and length gives the front court a moment to breathe and creates the ability to have a bigger lineup.

If the Sky wanted to add one more big, bringing back Stefanie Dolson is an option. She spent 2017-2021 with the Chicago Sky and was a part of the 2021 WNBA Championship team. Dolson has performed quite well with the New York Liberty the last two seasons and fits their schematics seamlessly. There’s a high chance she will stay in the Big Apple, but a trip back home to the Windy City is something the center could entertain.

There’s still plenty of time before roster moves can happen. Teams can send out qualifying offers during the first two weeks of January, but moves really start happening in February.

2024 Roster Prediction

C: Elizabeth Williams / Megan Gustafson

C/F: Isabelle Harrison / Alanna Smith / Sika Koné 

G/F: Kahleah Copper / International Player TBD

G: Skylar Diggins-Smith / Marina Mabrey / Rebekah Gardner

PG: Dana Evans / Courtney Williams

A majority of the 2023 roster should return for the 2024 season. The chemistry and offensive rhythm was there. With a healthy Isabelle Harrison and Rebekah Gardner, the Sky can showcase what they were supposed to be last season in 2024.

They could add some needed depth with Diggins-Smith and Gustafson. The Sky have a history of finding some top tier talent overseas, and that will very much happen again for 2024 – though it’s tough to predict who the Sky will sign to round out their roster.

“It’s a critical piece to make sure that [the international] talent pool is being seen and monitored,” Pagliocca told Marquee Sports Network. “We’re looking at everybody. So we’ll definitely be paying attention to all those games overseas, especially the teams our players are on.”

This is one of the younger teams in the WNBA, something that will prove to be vital over a 40-game season as younger legs can just run for a bit longer.

If this Sky team can stay healthy, be prepared for the Sky to finish as a Top 5 team in the WNBA. This is a team that will cause defensive ruckus and literally run past opponents with their transitional speed.

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