James Wade’s exit for the NBA makes Kahleah Copper’s future with the Sky even more uncertain

“I have a whole season to finish going into free agency next year,” Copper said. “I have to show up and be the best version of myself.”

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Kahleah Copper Chicago Sky game Connecticut Sun June 25

Kahleah Copper is remaining focused on the season despite all the changes affecting the Sky.

NBAE via Getty Images

Before the 2023 season, Kahleah Copper talked as if former Sky coach and general manager James Wade was family as she laid out her expectations and goals.

With Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Candace Parker — the last remaining starters from the 2021 championship team — opting not to re-sign, Copper seemed to be fired up by the fact that she and Wade would lead the franchise into the future.

In describing Wade, Copper came to one observation that made her laugh.

“We’re a lot alike,” Copper told the Sun-Times in March.

In the wake of Wade’s unexpected and swift resignation from the Sky for an assistant-coaching position with the Raptors, Copper’s reflection is relevant. Wade is moving on to an opportunity he feels will further his coaching career, while Copper is left to finish out the final months of the two-year deal she signed under his guidance. Both appear to be handling the circumstances a lot alike — as matter-of-factly as possible.

“There are no optics to it,” Wade told the Sun-Times. “It is what it is. Yeah, I left and it was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life, but I felt like it was a good decision for me and my family.”

When asked how she’ll handle the moment, Copper seemed equally as detached from the emotional aspect of the situation.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Copper responded to the Sun-Times. “You can’t stress the [crap] that you can’t really control.”

Copper has endured both ends of the business spectrum in her eight-year career so far.

After her rookie season with the Mystics, she was traded to the Sky, which was a tough pill for her to swallow at the time. Regardless, she arrived in Chicago and made it home.

Now, it’s the flip side: a mass exodus of her championship teammates and coach and general manager while she remains to guide the franchise forward.

“It’s definitely tough,” Copper said. “I lose all my teammates and now I lose the head coach. That’s like the last of the band.”

As her sentence trailed off, Copper was left motioning to the championship banner that hangs in the Sky’s practice gym at Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

The reality of the situation requires some tunnel vision. That seems to be what is dictating the three-time All-Star’s demeanor. In Copper’s competitive mind, this isn’t the season that Wade jettisoned himself from the Sky. This is a contract year, and that’s all she seems willing to focus on.

“What does it do for me if I’m pouting about it?” Copper asked. “I have a whole season to finish going into free agency next year. I have to show up and be the best version of myself.”

Loyalty is a big factor in Copper’s life.

With that understanding, it’s easy to believe that had Wade remained in Chicago, Copper could have signed a multiyear deal to return. Not because of a lack of interest in the free-agent market but rather as a result of her developed allegiance to the city and what she believed she was building with Wade.

Now, after the breakup of the 2021 championship team and all the business dealings Copper has endured in her career, she understands everyone has to do what’s best for themselves. Without Wade, the Sky have even more work to do to ensure the franchise remains what’s best for Copper.

“I want to see the organization keep up with the Joneses,” Copper said when asked what it would take for her to re-sign with the Sky. “We talk about facilities. We talk about moving to the city, maybe. But I want to see it happen, that shift really happen and really have something in the works.”

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