Four years can seem like forever in sports. And so it is that the soaring optimism of the 2013 WNBA draft probably feels like quite a long time ago to Chicago fans. That year, the Sky drafted Elena Delle Donne, adding her considerable talents to a Pokey Chatman-coached team that also had center Sylvia Fowles, forward Swin Cash and guards Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot. Talk about a perfect fit; the 6-foot-5 guard/forward Delle Donne was exactly what the Sky needed.
Now, just before the 2017 WNBA draft, Vandersloot is the only one of that group who's still with Chicago. And what do the Sky, who have the Nos. 2 and 9 picks in the first round, need this time in Thursday's WNBA draft (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET)? Well, another Delle Donne would be great. But there is no such player available. And it's also the first draft for the Sky's new coach and general manager, Amber Stocks.
Hey, no pressure, right?
In general, this draft isn't rating very highly in terms of impact players. But Stocks opted for a more optimistic assessment. What stands out to her?
"Just the breadth of shooters at multiple positions that this draft offers," she said. "That doesn't necessarily mean that we have a bunch of finesse players out there. The players that are scoring the ball well beyond the 3-point line ... are also attacking the rebounds and getting to the free throw line."
Stocks is coming off championship experience, having been an assistant to Brian Agler the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, who won the 2016 title. Now she's in charge of a Sky team that's trying to establish a different identity.
Two superstar players who were No. 2 picks five years apart -- Fowles and Delle Donne -- both forced trades to leave Chicago. Fowles sat out the first half of 2015 before she got her exit ticket via trade to Minnesota.
Then Delle Donne's relationship with Chatman seemed to go awry at some point. But even the Sky letting Chatman go after last season didn't help them keep Delle Donne.
Chatman was hired in November by the team about 200 miles to the southeast, the Indiana Fever. Delle Donne, per her wishes, was dealt in February to Washington, the closest WNBA team to her Delaware home. The Sky got center Stefanie Dolson, guard/forward Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 pick in this draft from the Mystics.
Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA MVP, has averaged 20.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in her four-year career. The Sky will have to make up her points by committee, but they won two playoff games without her last season, including one against Los Angeles.
The Sky have been an offense-first team; last year they led the league in scoring (86.2 PPG) and were second in offensive rating (107.0). With Delle Donne gone, their top returning scorer is veteran guard Cappie Pondexter (12.9 PPG).
The Sky might become more defense-oriented under Stocks, but drafting the best scorer available at No. 2 still might be the Sky's best strategy. That could mean not having to look very far away. If San Antonio takes Washington guard Kelsey Plum at No. 1, the Sky might opt for Nia Coffey, who played at Northwestern in Chicago.
Coffey is a 6-1 forward who averaged 20.0 points and 10.4 rebounds as a senior and 17.9 and 9.2 for her NCAA career. The biggest question about Coffey might be her position; she's smallish to play power forward in the WNBA but needs to polish more skills to be really comfortable at small forward. That said, she's seen as someone with a high ceiling and a proven track record of production at the college level.
If Coffey isn't the Sky's choice, it seems likely they'd opt for a guard, such as Syracuse's Alexis Peterson (23.4 PPG this season), Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (18.8), Baylor's Alexis Jones (13.2) or South Carolina's Allisha Gray (13.2). The first three are 1-2 combo guards, while Gray can play the 2-3 positions. So all four offer versatility in different ways.
Chicago has five players 6-4 or taller on the roster. And while all of them might not make the final cut, their presence makes it less likely that they'd go for someone like 6-4 center Alaina Coates from South Carolina.
Whatever choices Stocks ends up making, though, the Sky will have a different focal point this season. Delle Donne is gone, which leaves a big void -- but also some big opportunities for other players.