Enter: James Wade
By Chris Kwiecinski
Sandwiched in between Chicago Sky majority owner Michael Alter and majority investor John Rogers was the newest face on the Chicago Sports scene.
Figuratively, and maybe literally.
Figuratively, Wade took over the helm as head coach and general manager of the Sky on Tuesday. The former Lynx assistant is in charge of a young, talented team that’s still searching for its identity after trading away star players Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles in a span of three years.
Literally, as the day before Wade was in Russia, coaching his Euroleague squad UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Whichever measure you choose, Wade has now entrenched himself into a self-proclaimed basketball town that’s most recent success came at the hands of the city’s mid-major college basketball squad and it’s 99-year-old nun chaplain.
Still, the Sky might not need divine intervention in order to return to relevance, and Wade might be just the medicine the team needed.
Plagued by turnovers and porous defense, the Sky’s WNBA All-Rookie Diamond DeShields, all-purpose player Gabby Williams, All-Star Allie Quigley and All-Time single-season assists leader point guard Courtney Vandersloot could only lift the team to a 13-21 record.
And those four players just scratch the surface of the Sky’s talent. Chicago scored the ball last year - the team averaged 83.8 points per game - so that side of the court is solidified. Wade preached playing intelligent basketball after his introduction on Tuesday.
“The thing we have to do is find a pleasure in movement, whether it’s running or running a half court set we have to find pleasure in that,” Wade told WNBAinsidr.com after his introduction. “It has to become part of our identity, and I think it can because we have high IQ players.
Smarter basketball takes care of the turnover problem, however Wade also comes from a defensive-minded Lynx team, who had the third-best defensive rebounding average per game and whose opponents had the second-lowest points per game average in the league.
That rebounding stat also alluded to the fact that Wade has a penchant for developing post players, which is an immense boon for the Sky. During his introduction, Wade boasted about developing center Fowles during the 2017 season. “Me and Syl worked together for the whole year, and that’s the year she got MVP, got Finals MVP,” Wade told reporters at his introduction. “That’s how I made my bones, by being a post coach.”
“The issue is going to be building our defensive identity.”
Chicago already has two young post players in Alaina Coates and Cheyenne Parker, not to mention the veteran presence of Stef Dolson, so it’s clear what positions will be developed as the Sky enter the thick of the offseason.
Some may compare Wade’s hiring to former Sky coach Amber Stocks’ in 2016. Both were assistant head coaches with no head coaching experience, and both came from WNBA champion teams.
However, what sets Wade apart from Stocks is the backbone of his coaching. A former scout, Wade rattled off numbers and stats during his introduction like street names.
Not to mention, his Euroleague coaching experience has him already coaching different WNBA players. Some of those players, he’ll have an eye on come free agency.
“For example, I’m coaching (Vandersloot) and it’s helping her grow,” Wade told WNBAinsidr.com. “Being with her all year long and to have an eye on free agents … It’s helpful”.
Taking on the role of head coach and general manager is a daunting double task for Wade. The Sky currently have only five players under contract for the 2019 season, leaving seven players to either re-sign or let walk, not including whomever he drafts with the fourth overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft.
But, hey, at least Wade has a little humor about wearing his two hats.
“I think being the head coach,” Wade told reporters. “We’ll have a lot of discussions about it.”