2022 WNBA awards: Sky's James Wade named Executive of the Year for keeping core together

Chicago Sky general manager James Wade is the 2022 WNBA Executive of the Year, the league announced on Monday.

The Sky are vying to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Sparks did it in 2001 and '02. The reigning champions locked in the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a 26-10 record and will face the No. 7 New York Liberty in a deciding Game 3 on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

The voting panel is comprised of one basketball executive from each of the 12 WNBA teams. They submit ballots with their top three choices. Wade was on 11 ballots, followed by Atlanta Dream general manager and executive vice president of basketball operations Dan Padover (seven) and Washington Mystics general manager and head coach Mike Thibault (six).

James Wade improved 2021 Sky championship roster

Chicago Sky's James Wade
Sky general manager and head coach James Wade brought his core back and added dangerous pieces for the reigning champions to run it back. (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY USPW / reuters)

Wade spent the offseason improving his championship-winning roster. Heading into the 2022 free agency period, Chicago only had Candace Parker and Azurá Stevens on guaranteed contracts, and the club extended Stevens after a career year. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper — four of his starters alongside Parker — were all unrestricted free agents.

Wade started by putting the core designation on Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP, and later signed her to a multiyear deal to stay in Chicago through 2023. She signed at $200,000 in 2022 and $205,000 in 2023, around $20K under the supermax, per Her Hoop Stats.

He brought on Emma Meesseman, the 2019 Finals MVP for the Mystics who spent last season out of the WNBA while with her Belgian national team. She's third in scoring, rebounds and assists for the Sky. And he brokered a trade that sent Diamond DeShields to the Mercury in a three-team deal that brought 25-year-old Belgian point guard Julie Allemand to town. The Sky will also have Phoenix's 2023 first-round pick, which will be No. 5.

With limited cap room remaining he signed Vandersloot ($195,000 in 2022, down from her 2021 salary of $200,000) and Quigley ($135K, from $194K) in an effort to run it back. And he signed overseas star Rebekah Gardner, the 6-foot-1 guard who played at UCLA the past 10 years in Israel, Turkey, Romania and Spain.

Chicago ranks third in offensive rating (105.8) and boast the best assist statistics and field goal efficiency in the league. They rank fourth in defensive rating (99.7). They ranked seventh (100.9) in offensive rating and sixth on defense (99.4) in 2021 when they finished sixth in the standings, but went on a run to the title.

WNBA's Executive of the Year award winners

Connecticut Sun general manager and head coach Curt Miller won the inaugural Executive award in 2017. The Sun finished the season as the No. 4 seed after losing five of its first six. Three players became first-time All-Stars in Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas and Jonquel Jones. That was also the year Miller and the Sun drafted Brionna Jones, the leading candidate for Sixth Player this year.

Chris Sienko, formerly of the Atlanta Dream, and Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx have each won. Padover won it in 2020 and 2021 as the front office leader of the Las Vegas Aces. They went 63-25 during this three-year tenure and drafted Jackie Young (No. 1, 2019) and Iliana Rupert (No. 12, 2021).