By: Jeffrey Newholm
Back in February, I was among the many who severely doubted the Sky’s ability to be competitive in the short term without Elena Delle Donne, or even in the long term with the far less than ideal playing location of Allstate Arena in Rosemont, outside the city proper. Indeed, I noted with supreme irony and a disdainful shake of the head the many Sylvia Fowles jerseys being purchased by fans Sunday at dumpster-deal prices, considering Fowles had sat out half a season to force a trade elsewhere. But the very fact the team had occasion to have such a sale in the first place gives hope that the Sky can again be competitive, and this time seriously and legitimately. The team is finally moving downtown to DePaul’s brand new Wintrust arena, both offering an intriguing path forward for the team and offering hope to other struggling franchises that they, too, may someday be successful, should management have occasion to care.
The team did slump to 12-22 without Delle Donne (although, thanks the WNBA’s generous playoff format, wasn’t eliminated until the bitter end of the season). However, I think the team has the pieces to be successful, and could offer fans from the Windy City a legitimate summer entertainment option going forward. Almost everyone who took the floor Sunday played quite well, in my estimation-the two big things holding the team back were poorly run offensive sets and an inability to close the game out (the latter being a recurring issue this season). Both of these issues stem largely from an inexperienced roster adjusting to a new coaching staff, issues time and practice can rectify. With this year’s #2 overall pick, Alaina Coates, finally to take the floor next year after recovering from a pre-draft injury, and two lottery picks in next year’s draft, I think a playoff spot in 2018 is squarely within the realm of possibility, if not plausibility. And the team drew much better in the game I attended this season than the very weak showing I saw in 2016, making one fan’s comment that “we’ve outgrown this place” sound simultaneously believable and healthily optimistic.
The Sky’s improved prospects for success, happily, did not occur in a vacuum-other teams that have fallen on hard times have been given notice that they, too, can join the ranks of the contenders, should appropriate steps be taken. In just the last few years, the severely struggling Tulsa Shock have relocated successfully to Dallas, with ticket sales reportedly improving exponentially. The San Antonio Stars, again with best odds in the lottery, can add another star player to compliment a healthy and contributing Kelsey Plum. And the Indiana Fever can quickly forget a post-Tamika Catchings slump and progress with their building plan in a basketball –crazed state. In a world filled with doubting Thomas fans and scribes, it seems a brighter day has dawned on the once-downtrodden Sky, with a Sun that smiles ever more brightly over the entire association.