At 14-20, the Chicago Sky lost out to the New York Liberty on the last Eastern Conference playoff spot in 2012. The silver lining was being in the draft lottery, where Chicago got the No. 2 overall pick. That ended up being Delaware guard/forward Elena Delle Donne, who should fit perfectly for what Chicago needs.
With Delle Donne's versatile scoring ability, she realistically would fit anywhere. But she's especially needed to give the Sky a major threat besides center Sylvia Fowles and guard Epiphanny Prince. Those two players both dealt with injuries last season, when Prince averaged a team-best 18.1 points in 26 games and Fowles 16.2 in 25.
The Sky this year versus last year might be a little like Minnesota in 2010 and '11. It seemed in 2010 as if the Lynx were ready to end their playoff drought, but then it turned out the team wasn't quite as good as it hoped to be. However, with top draft pick Maya Moore on board in 2011, things finally came together in a big way for the Lynx. They not only finally made the playoffs again, but also won the WNBA championship.
Similarly, Chicago coach Pokey Chatman really thought the Sky's playoff breakthrough would come last season, and she was disappointed it didn't happen. But now with the Delle Donne, it might at last be time for that breakthrough.
Besides drafting Delle Donne, the Sky also brought in point guard Sharnee Zoll, who may finally have found a home in the WNBA. She played briefly with Minnesota in 2008, and then looked like she would have a chance to re-enter the league in Los Angeles last year before suffering a knee injury. Now, she might be a backup to Courtney Vandersloot, who's in her third WNBA season.
Gone from last year are veterans Le'coe Willingham, now with Atlanta, and Ticha Penicheiro, who finished her WNBA career.
The most important hurdle is to just go where the Sky haven't gone before in the franchise's first seven seasons: the playoffs. That will require consistency from Chicago during the stretch run of the regular season. And that's not something the Sky have been able to do before.
Also, who will step forward as the real vocal leader on this team? Who can comfortably hold her teammates accountable when they hit rough patches? Because all teams do during a season.
The Sky have the talent to finish in the top four of the East. Maybe even to be first. But just making the playoffs would be a big step.