Candace Parker Stacks The Deck
1:45 PM EST on January 30, 2023
I'm not sure Candace Parker has ever once, meaningfully, in her basketball life been "just gravy." The last time she hit free agency, she joined a Chicago Sky team in need of her calming effect and defensive service. She blessed the Los Angeles Sparks with a franchise pillar for 13 seasons, playing that role from her very first game. In college, she carried Tennessee on a dislocated shoulder. Her high school team lost two of 32 games her senior year, both when she was injured and not in the lineup.
There's a first time for everything: What Parker offers the Las Vegas Aces—she announced this weekend that she plans to sign with the reigning champions when the free agent signing period begins this Wednesday—is probably the same thing she offered at All-Star weekends or to Team USA, back when she participated in the Olympics. She makes a scary team scarier. She moves a needle that didn't need much moving. Candace Parker modifies the unmodifiable: If the Aces were a certainty before, 2023 championship favorites from the moment A'ja Wilson dribbled out the clock, they are now somehow more certain.
Parker and the Sky fixed each other's problems with startling efficiency. A reigning Defensive Player of the Year joined a reigning defensive abomination and led them to the franchise's first-ever championship. Together, they vanquished every narrative demon. They beat assorted "don't have that dawg in 'em" allegations. They fostered local interest in the team. Parker's public image, eroded by injuries and by years of poor coaching in her final seasons in Los Angeles, has probably never been better than it was on the evening she pulled down the last rebound of Finals Game 4. This all happened in the span of a few months. Tidy business.
If her last free agency move was "fitting" and "heartwarming," this one is something completely different. I don't mean to say the signing is sad or wrong. Parker, in her announcement post, stressed her need to be back on the West Coast for the sake of her family. (That parenthood figured so heavily in her decision rings a little ironic, given Dearica Hamby's recent ordeal with the Aces.) The difference is one of needs vs. wants. In strictly basketball terms, Vegas is a fun and goofy and decadent choice. Parker may be a proven winner with championship experience, but ... so are all of the Aces. All you can really say is, "Ha ha ha." She held up her end of the bargain. She wrote the storybook ending with Chicago. Her retirement from basketball nearing, Candace Parker is well within her rights to have some fun.
So is everyone else! Not Sky fans—they should probably pine and mourn the end of an era; a rebuild seems to be the next phase for them, with Courtney Vandersloot likely on her way out, too. But while Parker's signing entrenches one power, expect a proportional response. Change is in the air. A new WNBA order is forming. Breanna Stewart, reportedly deciding between the Storm and the New York Liberty, lies in wait. Perhaps the Parker move will nudge Stewart toward an alliance with Sabrina Ionescu and the recently traded-for Jonquel Jones in New York. Against the new and improbably improved Aces, she might be the field's only hope.
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