CHICAGO, Ill. - A tumultuous start to free agency was only a harbinger of things to come for the Chicago Sky.
After missing on multiple star free agents, the franchise now has no face. Kahleah Copper was traded to the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday for a plethora of draft picks and two players.
It's a sign the Sky are committing to a rebuild. They're also committing to rebuild through an avenue the franchise has struggled in for years.
"Firstly, we would like to thank Kahleah for her tremendous contributions to the Chicago Sky, including leading the Sky to a championship as the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP," Chicago Sky General Manager Jeff Pagliocca said in a statement. "Over seven years, Kahleah brought a fierce competitive spirit, passion for winning and high energy that embodied Chicago Sky basketball. Kahleah will be missed, and we wish her all the best in her next chapter.
Copper was the Sky's undisputed face of its franchise. The Sky were advertising season tickets using Copper. Instead, she's heading to Phoenix.
Here's what the Sky are receiving:
- Forward Brianna Turner
- Forward Michaela Onyenwere
- The Mercury’s first-round pick in 2024, No. 3 overall
- The Mercury's first-round pick in 2026
- A 2025 second-round pick back from Phoenix, which originally belonged to the Sky
- The rights to a 2026 second-round pick swap with Phoenix
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Kahleah Copper #2 of the Chicago Sky shoots a free throw against the Las Vegas Aces in the first quarter of Game One of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs first round at T-Mobile Arena on September 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
All of that for Copper and Morgan Bertsch. That's how valuable Copper is.
It makes sense Phoenix would pair Copper with long-time superstar Diana Taurasi as the team tries to resign Brittney Griner. The franchise paired Taurasi with an All-WNBA guard in Skylar Diggins-Smith and that took Phoenix to the WNBA Finals where the Sky beat the Mercury.
Copper emerged in those Finals as a star. It seems like the Mercury recognized this. The Sky deemed the 29-year-old face of its franchise traceable, meaning the franchise is in a full on rebuild. Considering the return for Copper, the franchise is opting to rebuild through the 2024 WNBA Draft.
That's a good bet for the first round this season. But in the future, Pagliocca needs to prove that's a skill of his with two important picks.
It wasn't for former head coach and general manager James Wade. He hit on Ruthy Hebard in the 2020 WNBA Draft, but struggled drafting in other seasons.
Most notably, the Sky drafted UConn forward Katie Lou Samuelson in 2019 over Arike Ogunbowale and Napheesa Collier. Those two have been selected to at least one All-Star Game and All-WNBA Team. Samuelson is on her fifth team in five WNBA seasons this year with the Indiana Fever.
In the 2024 WNBA Draft, the Sky now have the No. 3 overall selection. They're in a position to land one of Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink or Paige Bueckers. Those three players can make an immediate impact.
However, there's no guarantee those three will all declare for the WNBA Draft.
If all three do, the Sky will have a player they can develop into their next face of the franchise. Brink is a dominating post presence, Bueckers is a dynamic point guard who can score at a high level and Clark, well, the soon-to-be NCAA all-time leading scorer needs no introduction.
If they don't, the Sky can still draft a player like Angel Reese or Kamila Cardoso. Those are talented players, but they aren't expected to have the same kind of immediate impact Brink, Bueckers or Clark would.
The last time the Sky were in this much of a flux was in 2018.
By the start of the season, they drafted Gabby Williams and Diamond DeShields to pair around the core of Copper, Stef Dolson, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. By the end of that season, they fired head coach Amber Stocks.
Wade entered that season and made an immediate impact with trades and the roster at hand.
This year, much more is in flux. The core of Hebard, Elizabeth Williams, Dana Evans, Marina Mabrey and Rebekah Gardner helped the Sky to a playoff berth last season. But, that was with Copper, Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith. Those three are no longer in Chicago.
Lindsay Allen, Onyenwere, Turner and a recently resigned DeShields have potential, but a franchise player has to be present.
The Sky can do that at No. 3 overall and draft a contributor at No. 13 overall. But, the players that will be available will be out of their hands.
This draft goes beyond this season. The Sky need to have a player in place they believe can be the face of the franchise before the season starts.
Or else this begs the question: what direction is the franchise heading?