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Re-signing Kahleah Copper a priority for Sky coach/GM James Wade

Copper continues to leave her plans open-ended but has indicated that returning to the Sky is an attractive option.

WNBA Finals - Game One - Chicago Sky v Phoenix Mercury
An unrestricted free agent, Copper may begin negotiations on January 15 and can sign a player contract with any team starting February 1.
Photo by Mike Mattina/Getty Images

Kahleah Copper hasn’t struggled to stay busy since becoming a WNBA Champion and Finals MVP one month ago.

Copper has had appearances, attended an Adidas summit with teammate Candace Parker in Los Angeles, was honored at City Hall in Philadelphia and published a story with the Players Tribune.

In it she writes, “Chicago — y’all ready for another run at this thing?”

After the 2021 season — in which she led the Sky in scoring, became a first-time WNBA All-Star, was Finals MVP and should have made an all-defensive team — free agency is sure to be exciting for Copper. Sky coach/general manager James Wade has not been coy about what a priority it is for him to re-sign Copper this winter.

The question is, how serious is she about returning to Chicago?

“I was saying [in the Players Tribune] for real, let’s run it back,” Copper said. “Free agency and all of that, I gotta go through, get through that.”

Copper continues to leave her plans open-ended but has indicated that returning to the Sky is an attractive option.

An unrestricted free agent, Copper may begin negotiations on January 15 and can sign a player contract with any team starting February 1.

The Sky have four players on contracts through the 2022 season, giving Wade the most cap flexibility he’s had since joining the franchise three seasons ago. Along with signing Copper, Wade said he wants to coach unrestricted free agents Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley as long as they play in the WNBA.

Quigley hasn’t decided on whether or not she will retire, while Vandersloot, for the first time in her career, is not guaranteeing her return to the Sky. How Wade utilizes the league’s core-player designation will be interesting. This designation essentially removes a player’s unrestricted status, giving their team exclusive rights to negotiate with them.

According to HerHoopStats, the Sky will have $908,215 in cap room next year.

If Wade offers Copper a max deal, she would be making $228,094 in 2022, and that amount would increase every year of her contract for up to three years.

Assuming Vandersloot and Quigley both return to the Sky for the 2022 season and make the same amount they did in 2021, that would eat up $394,000 more of Wade’s cap room. Those three contracts would give Wade $286,121 to re-sign the rest of his championship team, including Stefanie Dolson, Diamond DeShields, Astou Ndour-Fall and Lexie Brown.

Dolson and Ndour-Fall are both unrestricted free agents, while DeShields and Brown are restricted. In her exit interview with Wade, DeShields made it clear that she wants to return for another season with the Sky.

For that to happen, Wade needs to see her offseason work translate to the court.

“We’re confident she can get back to the player that she was,” Wade said. “You saw spurts, streaks of it, but we want her to be consistent.”

In her sophomore season, DeShields started every game for the Sky, averaging a career-high 16.2 points, and she earned her first All-Star nod. During the WNBA’s bubble season the following year, she didn’t start and left after just 13 games.

This year she started 22 of the Sky’s 32 regular-season games and averaged 11.3 points.

DeShields will be playing overseas for Famila Wuber Schio based in Schio, Italy, and her priority is to get her confidence back.

At this point, there are a lot of free-agency scenarios to contemplate. One thing is certain, though: Wade expects Copper to be back in Chicago next year.

“When you think of the Chicago Sky, you think of Copper,” Wade said. “I don’t see her wearing another jersey.”