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What does heaven need to keep Vandersloot in the picture?

What does heaven need to keep Vandersloot in the picture?

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There will be two major dominoes falling in WNBA free agency this year, creating a ripple effect across the league. They are Breanna Stewart and Candace Parker.

Over the next week, speculation about what all the big players in free agency — including Courtney Vandersloot — will decide will be rife. But what Vandersloot, a WNBA champion, four-time All-Star and the No. 3 career assistant in league history, decides will depend largely on Stewart staying with Storm and Parker returning to Heaven.

Stewart reportedly met with Liberty’s front office staff as an unrestricted free agent in 2022, along with coach Sandy Brondello and owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai. But that came on the heels of the Storm and made Jewell Loyd a core player and Sue Bird said she would return for another season, so the likelihood of Stewart leaving to play in her home state of New York wasn’t high last year .

But 2023 is a whole different story. According to HerHoopStats.com, the Liberty have just $382,915 in salary cap, more than just the Aces ($138,804) and Wings ($363,396). So it would take some movement on Liberty’s side to make room for Stewart and still be able to fill out the rest of her list. On the other hand, the Storm have the most cap spot in the league ($1,025,564) and only two players signed in Loyd and Mercedes Russell.

Stewart helped The Storm to two championships (2018 and 2020) but what they may be in for with the Liberty is an opportunity to build a new dynasty. One of the lessons of Parker’s decision to leave the Sparks for the Sky in 2021 is that there’s a lot of glory that comes with winning a championship at home. Although Stewart grew up in North Syracuse, four hours from the city, that can’t be overstated.

There seem to be only two possible spots for Parker to land, and those are the two teams she’s played for in her career. For many, Los Angeles is a closed chapter for Parker, regardless of the new regime the Sparks have hired to lead the franchise into the future. But with nearly $1 million to spend on free agency, the Sparks’ ability to build a winning team that could lure Parker shouldn’t be overlooked.

“We are just as interested as any other party in what Candace might decide what she wants to do,” said Sparks chief executive Karen Bryant. “When the time is right, we look forward to paying attention and engaging in conversations when the opportunity arises.”

If we go hypothetical and Stewart signs with the Liberty, it immediately puts her in a title shot. Depending on the contract, this can be the case for years. Another team with title ambitions in 2023 based on their roster is the defending champions Aces.

The point is, if Stewart leaves the storm, Vandersloot will have to sign with a team that has a roster capable of beating those two franchises in a streak. If Parker re-signs with Sky, they would have been one step closer to a roster that would make them more enticing for Vandersloot.

But Vandersloot will be a coveted asset in the hands of beyond Storm and Sky. Last year, alongside Storm and Sky, she also met Lynx.

What Sky owners need to think about is how to invest in the franchise to make Chicago a prime free agency destination.

Parker signed with Sky in 2021, of course, but that had more to do with Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and the rest of the squad than the franchise being among the best in terms of player experience.

The Sky are billed as Chicago’s team, but they train in Deerfield almost an hour away. And while principal owner Michael Alter has said the franchise is interested in one day investing in a practice facility, other teams are now doing so. Parker told the Sun-Times last summer that the only thing that would raise the sky any higher was if they were based exclusively in Chicago.

Coach and GM James Wade’s priority is to ensure the organization has the right coaches and staff to continue to develop a culture that engages players. He told the Sun-Times that The Sky will hire a second player development coach this season to work alongside Jeff Pagliocca, whom the team hired last year. Wade’s coaching staff of Tonya Edwards, Emre Vatansever and Ann Wauters remain unchanged.

There are a handful of WNBA greats who have won multiple championships in one jersey. Vandersloot also has the potential to do so. But gone are the days of being blindly loyal to the franchise that drafted her.

Wade has dominated free agency for the past two years, signing Parker and winning a championship in 2021, followed by a free agency class that earned him Executive of the Year in 2022. As for the track record, he should offer fans some consolation.

But if heaven isn’t looking out, they’ll lose Vandersloot and find themselves in a position to catch up with the rest of the league – on and off the pitch.

NOTE: The WNBA period for qualifying offers is January 11-20. On January 21st, free agents can start negotiations. The Sun-Times free agency tracker website, featuring free agents from all 12 WNBA teams, will go live on January 11th.

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