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(Updated) 2021 WNBA Free Agency: Candace Parker in, Cheyenne Parker out for Chicago Sky

Despite entering the 2021 free agency period with little cap flexibility, the Chicago Sky made an enormous splash, signing former Los Angeles Sparks great Candace Parker to their roster. The move cost them Cheyenne Parker, however, who signed with the Atlanta Dream.

Chicago Sky v Los Angeles Sparks
All-time WNBA great Candace Parker (left) has joined the Chicago Sky for 2021 and beyond. In a corresponding move, Cheyenne Parker (right) has moved on to the Atlanta Dream.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Chicago Sky entered the 2021 WNBA free agency period with a task: improve the team’s frontcourt depth.

After losing six of their last eight games of the 2020 regular season and getting beaten soundly in the playoffs by the Connecticut Sun, it was obvious that Chicago needed more help down low. Re-signing forward Cheyenne Parker, who averaged a career-high 13.1 points per game as a full-time starter in 2020, seemed like the no-brainer move. That is, unless the Sky could somehow use that cap space to nab a superstar instead.

As it so happened, former Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker was available, and Sky head coach and general manager James Wade managed to lock her in to a two-year, fully guaranteed contract — an enormous development for a Chicago franchise that has historically not been a major destination for free agents.

As reported by Her Hoop Stats, Parker will earn $190,000 in 2021 and $195,000 in 2022 — slightly below the maximum salary allowed under the WNBA collective bargaining agreement.

As a result, Chicago lost Cheyenne Parker, who signed with the Atlanta Dream for three years and a $185,000 salary for 2021 — much more than Chicago could have offered with their remaining cap space.

As of Feb. 17, the Sky still have room for one more signing. Looking at the team’s roster, a backup point guard is currently needed. Sydney Colson, who was the team’s other unrestricted free agent for 2021, is an option, as is Brittany Boyd, who the Sky recently signed to a training camp contract. Chicago could also use its remaining cap space for a rookie scale contract.

The Sky currently own the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, and recently acquired the No. 16 overall pick after trading their 2022 second-round pick to Dallas.

They also signed forward Azurá Stevens to a contract extension. Stevens’ previous contract had not yet expired, re-signing her crosses one thing off Chicago’s agenda for the 2021-22 offseason.


By the numbers*

2021 Free Agents (type) (salary)

  • Cheyenne Parker (Unrestricted) ($110,000)
  • Sydney Colson (Unrestricted) ($70,000)
  • Alexis Prince (Reserved) ($9,120)

Team figures:

  • Total salary of free agents: $189,120
  • Total team salary (not including above players): $1,080,715
  • Cap space: $258,285

Analysis

Minnesota Lynx v Chicago Sky
While re-signing Cheyenne Parker would have been crucial for the Sky, it would have also left them with little cap room to do much else.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Sky entered the the 2021 free agency period with an obvious need and not much room under the cap to address it, unrestricted free agent Cheyenne Parker was a logical in-house option for Chicago to retain. Here’s how we broke things down initially:

Chicago doesn’t have much room under the cap to maneuver, making its offseason mission fairly straightforward: re-sign Parker, sign its 2021 first-round draft pick and call it a day.

That, of course, assumes the Sky will use their first-round pick on a player who will actually be playing in the WNBA in 2021. Alternatively, they could draft an international player and stash her for the future.

The WNBA is a star-driven league, however, and when the Sky were presented the opportunity to sign an all-time great in Candace Parker, they had to take it. Even after signing her, much of our initial analysis regarding the rest of the team’s roster holds true:

In Parker’s case, the Sky will have enough room to offer her the 2021 maximum salary of $190,550 after waiving 2020 third-round pick Kiah Gillespie and suspending 2019 third-round pick Maria Conde. After Parker’s 2020 season, one would surmise that her services will be highly coveted by other teams, hence, the Sky clearing enough space to retain her.

After that, if the Sky choose to draft a rookie for the 2021 roster, they’ll owe her a first-year salary of $67,208. Combined with the theoretical Parker figure of $190,550 and the rest of the team’s projected salary, that would put Chicago at $1,338,473 — achingly close to 2021’s salary cap of $1,339,000. In this scenario, Colson and Prince (who was signed as a replacement player late in the 2020 season) are left out of the equation.

As it currently stands, Chicago still owns 2021’s No. 8 overall pick, so the Sky have another choice to make: Do they draft a rookie who will be playing in 2021 or go with an international player (or trade the pick) and use their remaining cap space to sign another veteran to a lesser deal?

Chicago isn’t completely handcuffed to its current roster, either. We initially presented the following food for thought, which remains in play even after the Candace Parker signing:

Chicago also could choose to waive one of its players on unprotected contracts (Stephanie Mavunga and her 2021 salary of $70,040 seem like the most realistic case here) and use that money to either re-sign Colson or bring in another veteran player on a similar contract.

With arguably the biggest free agency domino already fallen, one has to wonder if Chicago now stands pat or chooses to make further changes. The signing of Candace Parker certainly suggests a win-now mentality, so now it would be less surprising to see one or more current Sky players or assets traded.

The acquisition of 2021’s No. 16 overall pick is of particular interest here. With the Sky already unable to afford more than one rookie-scale contract, did Wade trade for the pick to add as a sweetener in another trade, or is he targeting an international player at No. 8 or No. 16 to stash for 2022?

Keep in mind that if Boyd makes the roster, she’ll be getting paid $70,040 — this would barely put Chicago over the cap, so Boyd’s role with the team moving forward is unclear for now.


This story was updated to include Candace Parker signing with the Chicago Sky as a free agent and Cheyenne Parker signing with the Atlanta Dream as a free agent.

*All WNBA salary information courtesy of Her Hoop Stats and Spotrac and is current as of Feb. 17, 2021w