How Candace Parker’s move impacts Aces, Sky and WNBA

Candace Parker stunned the basketball world two years ago when she decided to leave the Los Angeles Sparks — the franchise she drafted over a decade ago — to play for her hometown team at the Chicago Sky. At the time, the move marked arguably the most landmark free agency decision in the WNBA’s two-decade history, following a new collective bargaining agreement that allowed for greater player movement.

The two-time WNBA MVP and two-time league champion shocked fans again on Saturday with a decision that was perhaps even less predictable than her Chicago homecoming: Parker announced on Instagram that she will be signing with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces and teaming up with the two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, first-team All-WNBA star Kelsey Plum, and 2022 playoff sensation Chelsea Gray, with whom Parker won her first championship in Los Angeles.

How is Parker integrated into the system of the Aces? Are they the automatic favorites to win the 2023 title, which would make them the first franchise to repeat since the Sparks did so in 2001 and 2002? And what does that mean for Sky?’s Kevin Pelton, Alexa Philippou, Ramona Shelburne and MA Voepel analyze all this and more.

How does Parker’s move to Las Vegas change the Aces and how does it fit into the lineup?

Pelton: During last year’s title run in Las Vegas, the big question was how the Aces would finish fifth in their lineup alongside Wilson, Gray, Plum and All-Star (and Most Improved Player) Jackie Young. Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon switched between three options, starting defensive veteran Kiah Stokes at center and then going small with Riquna Williams or Dearica Hamby (after Hamby returned from injury in the semifinals) as teams lost Stokes on edge ignored.

As one of the greatest players in WNBA history, Parker brings the best of all of these lineups to the Aces. Defense? She was 2020’s Defensive Player of the Year, and she’s had enough experience guarding centers in recent years to relieve Wilson of that responsibility. Offensively, Parker brings far more shot creation and playmaking than either Williams or Hamby, although that role is a bounty for their 3-point scoring. (Parker is a career 33% 3-point shooter, but she’s shot twice as many 3-pointers per game as Hamby last season.)

How Las Vegas will fill out the roster after Hamby’s trade to the Sparks remains to be seen. Currently, the Aces can’t afford to pay Parker their maximum salary ($202,154, switching teams as a free agent). She would have to take a pay cut of about $20,000 unless Las Vegas waives a player without a protected contract. Williams, whose $149,500 salary isn’t protected according to data, would be the logical candidate, but she’d also be hard to replace on a freelance basis.

Either way, the Aces are likely to bet on a tight rotation again. Only eight players saw more than 20 minutes of action for Las Vegas during last year’s playoffs, with the starters and Williams playing the bulk of it. On the plus side, having so many stars will allow Hammon to keep two or three of them on the court at once. Barring a serious injury, the Aces look like big favorites to return to the finals with the addition of Parker.

What does this mean for heaven?

Philippou: Sorry Sky fans, but things aren’t looking too good for you at the moment. Parker was the heartbeat of Chicago’s run to the championship in 2021. Not only is she gone now, but there seems to be a good chance that point guard Courtney Vandersloot — another free agent linked to Sky, Minnesota Lynx, New hit York Liberty and Seattle Storm – will leave. In fact, Finals MVP 2021 Kahleah Copper is the only returning starter currently signed to Sky. We’ll have to see what Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Emma Meesseman and key reserve Azurá Stevens ultimately decide, although it seems head coach/general manager James Wade will end up having to coach or put together a very different team than we’ve seen the last two seasons. In the worst case, there is a risk of conversion.

As of this writing, without knowing where Breanna Stewart will land, are the Aces the frontrunner for 2023?

Voepel: Yes. It seems odd not to put Las Vegas in that spot, considering the defending champions have now added a first-round Hall of Famer. On paper, at least, the Aces took an exceptional team and made it stronger with Parker.

There will be some chemistry questions. Hamby’s exit from the Aces was very messy. But in all leagues, players are traded for many reasons that annoy them. It seemed clear that the Aces’ trade for the Sparks was clearing the way for a potential big addition, and Parker was the logical choice.

The Aces were popular with league fans last season as they had former WNBA player Becky Hammon as their coach and Natalie Williams and Jennifer Azzi in the front office. Fans across the league may be less supportive after the Hamby situation, but the business of professional sports tends to be relentless. She was injured and wasn’t really a factor in the playoffs last year. The Aces still won, but they’ll be counting on Parker to provide even more star power for a run at a second championship.

However, no WNBA team has won championship titles for 20 consecutive years, including the dynastic Lynx (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017). It was Parker’s Sparks who stopped Minnesota in Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals.

So the Aces have a few challenges to face, not least historical, and everyone will be targeting them this season. However, they should be the favorites.

Shelburne: This move reminds me of when Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in 2016 with 73 wins, only the Aces actually finished their championship run. Parker has plenty of game left at the age of 36. Matching Wilson will be interesting, but Wilson helped recruit Parker to the Aces, so there’s a strong willingness to make this work. Also, Parker has previously played well with a dominant post player at Nneka Ogwumike in LA

How might Parker’s move affect the rest of the Freelancers?

Voepel: The three largest dominoes for this free time are Stewart, Vandersloot, and Parker. Now that Parker’s decision is made, everyone is waiting to see if Stewart and Vandersloot – who share the same agent – end up on the same team. Vandersloot was drafted from Chicago and has spent all 12 seasons at Sky but it might be time for her to move on. Stewart is in her prime and has played with great point guard with Sue Bird since she was drafted No. 1 by Seattle in 2016. Now that Bird has retired, Vandersloot Stewart would add another great point guard veteran to the team.

If they end up on the same team, will it be Seattle? (Vandersloot hails from the Seattle area.) Will it be New York, along with the Aces, that would then have real “superteam” vibes? (Stewart is from Syracuse.) Or is there anything more surprising than either of those scenarios in store for us?

It’s fair to say Parker’s decision could have implications for both individually and as a potential duo. We’ll also wait to see if their decisions — like Parker’s — are made before February 1, when free-agent signings can officially begin. How Candace Parker’s move impacts Aces, Sky and WNBA

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