CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Sky were on their way to their first WNBA championship two years ago and were in the playoffs this time last season after tying for the league’s best record.
They’ve undergone major changes since then, with big stars exiting in free agency and their coach and general manager leaving last month.
“Now, it’s time,” interim coach and general manager Emre Vatansever said. “It’s time to turn it around. And the team knows that.”
The Sky are tied for eighth with the Los Angeles Sparks at 12-18 and are 5-9 since Vatansever took over. They’ve lost three straight after winning three in a row. With 10 games remaining, they have some work to do if they’re going to grab one of eight postseason spots and make the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
“There’s definitely been some ups and downs with the coaching change, injuries early in the season, people coming and going,” forward Morgan Bertsch said. “We definitely hit some adversity. But I think what’s been impressive for this team is how much we’ve kept going through it all.”
Kahleah Copper has stepped up in a big way in her seventh season with the Sky and eighth in the WNBA, averaging a career-high 18.9 points. She made her third straight All-Star team.
Copper had a particularly good run during a recent seven-game stretch, averaging more than 25 points, before cooling off a bit in the past two games.
Marina Mabrey is averaging 15 points in her fifth season and first for Chicago. Courtney Williams is fourth in the league in assists at 6.2 per game. But the Sky are in a difficult spot.
“With how the season has (gone) and all the adversity that we have hit, sometimes goals change,” Mabrey said. “Now, we’re trying to get into the playoffs and stay in a playoff spot and also make a run to be in a higher playoff spot rather than the eighth seed, right? But you have to have process goals that go with that. You can’t just look at that and keep looking at that and think I’m not getting any closer.”
The Sky captured their first WNBA championship in 2021 and tied the Las Vegas Aces for the league’s best record in 2022, only to get knocked out by the Connecticut Sun in the semifinals. But they’re not the same team they were then.
The roster underwent a big transformation in the offseason, with Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and her sharp-shooting wife Allie Quigley not returning. All three are in their mid-to-late 30s.
Parker, a two-time MVP and seven-time All-Star, left her hometown team after two seasons and signed with Las Vegas. Five-time All-Star Vandersloot signed with the New York Liberty after playing her first 12 seasons in Chicago. Quigley, a three-time All-Star, opted not to play this season, though she has said she is not retiring.
With Azura Stevens signing with the Los Angeles Sparks, the only starter remaining from the championship team is Copper. The changes didn’t stop with the offseason moves.
Another big change came just over six weeks ago, this time on the bench and in the front office. Coach and general manager James Wade left for an assistant coaching job with the Toronto Raptors after leading Chicago to an 81-59 record over 4 1/2 seasons, with the team off to a 7-9 start.
“It is hard, but our team responded very, very well,” Vatansever said. “They’re buying into what we do right now and they’re trying to apply. Actually, there are not a whole lot of changes. But when we make the changes, the team took it in a good way.”
Vatansever, who had never been a head coach in the WNBA, said he is getting more comfortable as both a head coach and GM. He keeps in touch with Wade.
“He has always been supportive,” Vatansever said. “He was like, ‘You’ve got this’ and ‘I know you’ll be successful.’ He was always one of my biggest supporters. I’ve been coaching more than 20 years. It’s a good opportunity for me to express myself, my coaching style, and I’m trying to enjoy this moment.”