Azura Stevens will benefit from playing alongside five-time All-Star Candace Parker, whom the Sky signed to a two-year contract last month.
Sky forward Azura Stevens already experienced the physical and mental stress of bouncing back from an injury in 2020.
But coming back from surgery a year later during a contract season? That adds a whole load of pressure.
General manager James Wade understands that. That’s why the Sky signed Stevens to a one-year contract extension, allowing her to focus on her health rather than on competing for a new deal.
Stevens, who’s rehabbing from knee surgery, didn’t have any doubts she wanted to return to the Sky beyond this season. She said signing the deal — which is worth $144,000 guaranteed, according to The Next — ‘‘wasn’t a hard decision.’’
‘‘I won’t have the pressure of wondering if I’m still going to be here or anything like that,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘It’s already secured for now. I’m just really excited to really focus on this season, getting back on the court, and the next season will come around when it comes around.’’
Said Wade: ‘‘You’re going to see a great Azura in 2021, but it also gives her a peace of mind. When you have an injury and you start to second-guess and think and stuff like that, it’s always hard to come back. She’s going to be comfortable because she knows she doesn’t have to worry about that part, the business part of basketball. All she has to worry about is playing the game.’’
The Sky traded 2019 first-round pick Katie Lou Samuelson to the Wings for Stevens last offseason. Stevens still was rehabbing from a foot procedure she had in August 2019, but the Sky needed to add frontcourt depth after dealing forward Astou Ndour and liked Stevens’ athleticism and versatility on both ends of the court.
Stevens might have missed nearly a year of basketball, but her transition to the Sky was seamless. In 13 starts, Stevens averaged career highs in points (11.5 per game) and rebounds (5.9) and embodied the defensive identity the Sky wanted.
In the midst of her career resurgence, however, Stevens suffered a knee injury that ultimately required surgery. Despite the setback, Stevens is eager to elevate her game this season. She’ll benefit from playing alongside five-time All-Star Candace Parker, whom the Sky signed to a two-year contract last month.
‘‘She’s one of the best players in the league, if not arguably the best,’’ said Stevens, who indicated she modeled her game after Parker. ‘‘I’m really excited. I’ve looked up to her for a long time. I’m just really, really grateful for the opportunity to be able to learn from her one-on-one but also play alongside her. I think we’ll complement one another really well.’’
Stevens is expected to be ready when training camp opens this spring. She has returned to the court and has been increasing her workload in the last few months.
‘‘Everything is going really well,’’ she said. ‘‘I feel really good, and I’m looking forward to just being back on the court and being ready for this season.’’