WNBA free-agency tracker: Alanna Smith signs with Minnesota Lynx in 1st departure for the Chicago Sky

WNBA free agency officially opened Sunday — and the Chicago Sky have a major task in front of them to build a new roster under first-year coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

Here’s what you need to know about departures, additions, front-office news and much more.

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Friday: Alanna Smith signs with Minnesota Lynx

The Sky suffered their first free-agency loss when forward Alanna Smith chose to sign with the Minnesota Lynx, per a report by ESPN’s Alexa Philippou. Smith reportedly will sign a two-year deal.

Smith was a candidate for Most Improved Player last season as she stepped up in a breakout role for the Sky, filling the frontcourt for the injured Isabelle Harrison. She averaged 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. As a sixth-year veteran of the league, Smith was an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

The Sky did not extend a qualifying offer to center Ruthy Hebard, which means that Harrison and Elizabeth Williams are the only frontcourt players from last season currently on the roster. This furthers the importance of making a strong bid for forwards such as Nneka Ogwumike, who could upgrade the Sky in the paint and around the rim.

Wednesday: Nneka Ogwumike reportedly meets with Sky

After 12 years in Los Angeles, eight-time All-Star Nneka Ogwumike informed the Sparks she will be departing in free agency — and according to a report by ESPN, the Sky are one of the first teams Ogwumike interviewed with as she weighs her options.

Ogwumike shared on her Instagram account that she was in Chicago on Tuesday. According to the report, Ogwumike also met with the Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury and will meet with the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty before making a final decision.

Signing Ogwumike would fill a major need for the Sky as they look to create better balance in their frontcourt alongside Elizabeth Williams. Ogwumike is a veteran star who led the Sparks as league MVP on the way to a league title in 2016. She is highly respected as the president of the WNBA Players Association, a role she has held for two terms since 2016.

How did the Sky fare last year?

The last offseason was a disruptive one for the Sky, who were forced to adjust after the departures of Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Azurá Stevens.

After losing four free agents, the front office refocused to build the roster around All-Star guard Kahleah Copper with the additions of Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Isabelle Harrison. But the season was upended a second time with the abrupt midyear departure of former coach James Wade.

The Sky finished 18-22, earning the eighth seed in the WNBA playoffs. They were swept in the first round by the Las Vegas Aces, who went on to win a second straight championship.

A new coach, a new era

After floundering for the latter half of last season following Wade’s departure, the Sky have recalibrated their focus for 2024 around Weatherspoon.

The Sky named Weatherspoon their new coach on Oct. 12. They named Jeff Pagliocca as the new general manager later that month.

Weatherspoon is a giant of the league, a five-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist who defined the early years of the WNBA. But despite her deep wealth of knowledge and experience in the league, this will be a debut coaching season in the WNBA for her.

Her initial priority was clear: lock down a future with Copper. The Sky signed their star wing to a multiyear extension on Sept. 10, a month before Weatherspoon was hired. The pair have been in lockstep ever since, appearing together at Weatherspoon’s introductory news conference, where Copper praised the new coach’s energy and intention.

Building a team around Copper is a familiar task for the Sky. Weatherspoon now inherits the changes made last season and will have to determine how much of that team she and Pagliocca are comfortable retaining in their first year together.

Key free-agent target: Skylar Diggins-Smith

Diggins-Smith is perhaps the most interesting free agent on the market this year.

She parted ways with the Phoenix Mercury in the wake of a publicly contentious relationship with teammates, including Diana Taurasi, and has been eager to share her free-agency progress with fans via social media. (Her hometown Indiana Fever, for instance, are a team she reported to be uninterested in signing her.)

A six-time All-Star, Diggins-Smith is a skilled point guard who would immediately upgrade the Sky’s offense while allowing off-ball guards such as Copper to thrive with fewer on-ball responsibilities.

The Sky have several ins with Diggins-Smith — most importantly, a long-standing relationship with Weatherspoon, who was open about her interest in the guard during interviews last year. Copper was also bullish on the idea of bringing in Diggins-Smith, saying she “would help us get another championship” in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sky send out offers

The Sky extended qualifying offers to three players: Robyn Parks, Morgan Bertsch and Rebekah Gardner.

Parks and Bertsch were secondary role players who stepped up during injury absences last year. Both players made their WNBA debuts in 2023; Bertsch at age 25, Parks at 30.

Gardner, 33, is a key player for the Sky despite missing most of last season with a foot injury. A defensive specialist who can break opponents open in transition, she has been outperforming expectations since she made her WNBA debut in 2022. Her unique combination of defensive skill and lack of league experience made Gardner a steal on the free-agent market.

Current roster status

  • Under contract: Kahleah Copper, Dana Evans, Isabelle Harrison, Sika Koné, Marina Mabrey and Elizabeth Williams

  • Qualifying offers extended: Morgan Bertsch, Rebekah Gardner and Robyn Parks

  • Free agents: Ruthy Hebard, Alanna Smith and Courtney Williams