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Sky trade 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper to Mercury in signal of true rebuild

In Sports
February 06, 2024

The Chicago Sky are trading Kahleah Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP and last remaining starter from that championship squad, to the Phoenix Mercury. Copper confirmed the move on her Instagram account.

Copper, 29, immediately lifts the Mercury into contention with the two-time reigning champion Las Vegas Aces and fellow super-team New York Liberty, as well as the Seattle Storm after their splashy free agency period. For the Sky, it signals a true rebuild period under first-year head coach Teresa Weatherspoon. Copper was the foundational piece to structure a contender since most of the starters on the 2021 team exited.

The Sky will acquire Michaela Onyenwere, Brianna Turner and four draft picks in the deal, per Annie Costabile at the Chicago Sun-Times. That includes the No. 3 pick in the upcoming draft, per the report. The Sky did not have a first-round draft pick after general manager and head coach James Wade sent it to Dallas in the four-team trade that brought in guard Marina Mabrey. That transaction included Onyenwere, who went from New York to Phoenix, and the No. 3 pick that Chicago sent to Phoenix.

Copper averaged 18.7 points per game last season, ranking seventh in the league, and made near a career-best 40.4% from beyond the arc, a useful addition for the Mercury’s league-low percentages.

Sky’s 2021 championship team dismantled

The Sky, who re-signed most of their starters on one-year deals for 2022, fell short in their repeat title bid. After Candace Parker (Aces) and Courtney Vandersloot (Liberty) left last winter in free agency, Wade intended to build around franchise cornerstone Copper. He traded away the future, a daring move as the 2024 WNBA Draft class is expected to be one of the most talented ones to come out of college. The 2025 one will also be loaded, especially if star players opt to stay in college for a fifth year under the COVID-19 waiver.

Wade stepped down in July to take a job as assistant for the Toronto Raptors. The Sky finished the season under interim head coach Emre Vatansever with an 18-22 record and slipped into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. In September, before the season ended, Copper signed a two-year extension that would have kept her in town through 2025.

Chicago re-signed Diamond DeShields on Monday and bring back Mabrey and Dana Evans to the backcourt. The lottery pick will allow Chicago to draft a franchise talent for Weatherspoon to build around. Yahoo Sports projected Stanford defensive star Cameron Brink to the Mercury in its 2024 mock draft in December. Forward Aaliyah Edwards (UConn) and point guard Georgia Amoore (Virginia Tech) could also slot into the lottery.

Mercury build toward title run

It’s a race to keep up with the Aces in the WNBA right now and the Mercury are here to play. Phoenix, which lost in the 2021 Finals to the Sky in a rare series between a 5 and 6 seed, is seeking a final title for superstar Diana Taurasi.

The franchise signed point guard Natasha Cloud last week and now add to their backcourt depth with Copper. Cloud, one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders, won the 2019 WNBA title with the Washington Mystics.

The duo will pair with Taurasi, who eclipsed 10,000 career points last summer, and Sophie Cunningham. (Yes, Cunningham and Copper have history from that Finals series.) Brittney Griner, a likely MVP candidate, is an unrestricted free agent expected to re-sign with Phoenix.

There isn’t much the team doesn’t have to fix under first-year head coach Nate Tibbets. They finished last in the standings (9-31), struggling first under head coach Vanessa Nygaard and then interim head coach Nikki Blue. The Mercury ranked last offensively (76.6 ppg to the Aces’ league-leading 92.8).

The Aces returned their starting five, and the Liberty are in the midst of re-signing their starters in a bid to keep battling Las Vegas. The Mercury’s All-Star cast and the newly combined Big Three of Nneka Ogwumike, Jewell Loyd and Skylar Diggins-Smith in Seattle make the West an interesting mix of title contenders.

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