As DeWanna Bonner notched a pair of free throws in Game 5 of the 2022 WNBA semifinals, sending the Sun to the WNBA Finals and closing the curtain on the Sky’s season, Candace Parker was visibly frustrated.
The two-time WNBA champion was looking to make Chicago the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Sparks—the franchise that she started her WNBA career—did in 2001 and ’02. Even with the defeat on her home court, Chicago gave Parker the dream of a lifetime: playing in her hometown while also winning a title in the city where she fell in love with the “orange ball.”
But as the final buzzer sounded inside Wintrust Arena on Sept. 9, the speculation of whether Parker would in a Sky uniform for the 2023 season became a resounding topic. (She only signed a two-year contract with Chicago ahead of the ’21 season.) What’s more, Parker’s mindset ahead of the ‘22 season was that it would likely be her last, though she left a small crevice of opportunity, stating “I don’t know what future holds” in an interview with NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow.
Turns out, in a surprising shockwave for this year’s WNBA offseason, it was Parker’s final game with the Sky as the seven-time All-Star announced Saturday on Instagram that she will join the reigning WNBA champion Aces for the ’23 season. While all eyes have been situated on the sweepstakes for Breanna Stewart—who reportedly narrowed her free agency options to joining the Liberty or returning to the Storm on Sunday—Parker’s move back to the West coast is a tumultuous shift in the WNBA landscape. Las Vegas already boasts a star-studded team with multiple No. 1 draft picks in its starting lineup (two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, ’22 All-Star Kelsey Plum, ’22 Most Improved Player Jackie Young), plus ’22 Finals MVP Chelsea Gray, who was Parker’s teammate in L.A. when the Sparks won the title in ’16. It was also reported by Howard Medgal of The Next that two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark has agreed to join the Aces’ lineup, adding an elite three-point shooter to the already stacked roster.
As Parker’s news sparked tons of reaction on social media, at the heart of her decision to join her third WNBA franchise was the same as the previous two instances: her family, her “reason” and her “purpose.”
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But this time around, instead of Parker relishing the moments of eating dinner with her dad or being spoiled with pregame meals from her mom in the Windy City, she’s reached a point in her career every elite player with kids and a family eventually gets to. It’s no longer solely about Parker, who credits her daughter, Lailaa, for always sacrificing and supporting her, even when times were hard.
Parker, who was living in Los Angeles in the winter and playing in Chicago during the summer, will no longer have to reside 30 hours away from her daughter (who is starting high school in August), her wife, Anna Petrakova, and her son, Airr Larry Petrakov Parker, who turns one on Feb. 11. Her excursions between the game she loves and home will now only be four hours away, allowing Parker to be present for a lot more of moments with those who provide her with the “greatest joy.”
“I can’t be without them for parts of the season when Lailaa is in school, and I won’t miss her volleyball games or school dances simply because of distance,” Parker said in her note.
As for star forward on the hardwood, she enters the “perfect situation” in Las Vegas on a reported one-year deal, according to ESPN’s Alexa Philippou, with a chance to potentially close out her career with a third championship. However, when Parker officially signs with Las Vegas on Feb. 1, she will only make a little over $180,000 as the Aces are currently constructed, which is below her maximum salary of $202,154. The only way Parker could make more would be if the Aces parted ways with another veteran player on their roster, something that is possible if they waive a player with an unprotected contract.
The Aces acquisition of Parker came at the cost of former Aces star and two-time WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, a move that stirred controversy in the franchise and led to the WNBPA opening a “comprehensive investigation” to ensure that her rights under the CBA were not violated. With Hamby now in the Sparks’ lineup, Aces head coach Becky Hammon will still need to be strategic in finalizing the other pieces to the franchise’s roster ahead of the ’23 campaign.
What Parker’s addition means for the Aces
Parker, who was named to the W’s top 25 all-time players, excelled in both Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as played with some talented teammates.
In L.A., she played with Gray, Kristi Tolliver, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender. In Chicago, she played and recorded great success with the Sky’s duo of guards, Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, plus Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman, as well as Diamond DeShields and Stefanie Dolson in the ’21 campaign.
In Las Vegas, the addition of Parker gives the team a starting five with All-Star experience, as well as another bonafide star beyond the team’s core of Wilson, Gray, Plum and Young. While Hamby dealt with injury last season, she, along with defensive asset Kiah Stokes and clutch shooter Riquna Williams, served as the fifth player in the Aces’ starting rotation. With Parker, who can play and guard both forwards and centers, Wilson will have more freedom to play at the forward position and aid in rebounding.
Parker also brings more scoring opportunity and playmaking abilities for the Aces. At different times last season, Las Vegas was hit with the injury bug and missed a portion of its scoring. Parker, who has averaged four assists per game throughout her 15-year career, averaged 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while shooting 46% from the field, 31% from three-point range and 82% from the free throw line last season. On a night where one key player is missing, Parker can score, as well as actively get her teammates involved in the offense with her superb passing skills. Having a player of Parker’s caliber who can put Young, Plum, Gray and Wilson in position to score is a great addition for Las Vegas.
The Aces’ chance to repeat
On paper, Parker’s addition increases the Aces chances to repeat as WNBA champs. However, whether Las Vegas will be able to pull it off remains to be seen. It has been two decades since a WNBA team accomplished the feat.
First, there will be obvious concerns with building team chemistry amongst a team filled with such exceptional talent. While some will disagree with how the Aces handled the Parker acquisition and the departure of Hamby, it was evident that the franchise was seeking to bring in another major player—a future Hall of Famer—to pair with an influx of talent already in place. The move will likely affect the remaining portion of free agency moves involving Stewart, Vandersloot and others as teams seek to stay in contention for a WNBA title in ’23.
While the investigation into Hamby’s departure remains, Parker believes the situation was right for her and her family at this point in her career. WNBA fans will soon find out if this was the best move for the Aces in their quest to defend their title next season. Until then, Parker’s tenure in Las Vegas is officially underway.