WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper on free agency, Philly expansion, offseason plans

Kahleah Copper knows the trophy is in one of her bags. She just isn’t quite sure which one, so a rifling through luggage is in order.

It’s a fitting analogy for the Chicago Sky champion and WNBA Finals MVP as she heads into her first offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Copper, who is line for a nice raise, will be one of the headliners in a group that includes five league MVP winners. But she isn’t sure right now which way she’s leaning — or at least, she’s not saying.

“Chicago is definitely somewhere where I really want to be, but I haven't experienced a real free agency,” Copper told Yahoo Sports from Mountain Dew’s life-sized NBA2K court at Millennium Park in Chicago. “So I’m going to just approach it with an open mind, but I really love the city of Chicago. I just have decisions to make, and we’ll see when it comes.”

Copper spent the day of the Chicago Bulls' home opener last week continuing the party she helped crack open when the Sky won their first WNBA title in franchise history five days prior. She got up shots on the green 2K court with 60 lucky fans and tasted various versions of MTN DEW as the company continued its support of the NBA and WNBA. The Sky cheered on the Bulls from a suite at United Center that evening and received cheers themselves for bring the sports-loving city another title.

“I love our fans. I love being able to play downtown so that people can come out,” Copper told Yahoo Sports. “I just love the community and everything that comes with the city because I'm such a city girl.”

The party will soon quiet as players, including Copper, head overseas to their second jobs and the front office decides how it’s going to handle what is shaping up to be another splashy free agency period for the league. The franchise has six unrestricted free agents that include Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson and Copper, according to data by Her Hoop Stats.

Copper, 27, re-signed with the Sky on a two-year, $330,000 deal as a restricted free agent in 2020 after meeting at a cafe with head coach James Wade, who told her to be ready to fill bigger shoes. After they clinched the Finals in Game 4, Wade told reporters they knew then she was going to be Finals MVP.

With that fulfilled, she’s likely looking at a supermax deal up to $228,094 per year — a raise of $63,000 a year— if she opts to stay with Chicago. Other teams can offer $196,267 as the maximum.

Kahleah Copper wants to see expansion in Philadelphia

Kahleah Copper gets up 3-point shots at the Mountain Dew NBA 2K court ahead of the Chicago Bulls home opener. (Provided Photo)
Kahleah Copper gets up 3-point shots at the Mountain Dew NBA 2K court ahead of the Chicago Bulls' home opener. (Provided Photo)

One place that can’t sign her, at least this particular offseason, is a franchise in her home city of Philadelphia. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert confirmed “expansion is on the horizon” in the coming years, and Philly has been the target of conversation for it. Washington Mystics point guard and Athletes Unlimited signee Natasha Cloud said she’s “trying my damndest to bring a team back to Philly.

Copper, a North Philadelphia native, told Yahoo Sports she’s had conversations with Cloud, a native of the west side’s Broomall, about how important it is to bring a team to the area.

“I’m not directly involved, but it would mean so much because there are a lot of great players that come out of the city of Philadelphia,” Copper said. “So for it to be even in talks about having a WNBA team here, it’s just amazing. I think it would be great for the city, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.”

Philly proudly calls Dawn Staley one of its own, as well, and much like the current South Carolina coach, Copper has spent time with a clipboard while still playing professionally. Before heading overseas, she plans to make it to a Purdue University Northwest game after working as their assistant coach last offseason.

Copper on offseason plans, future for WNBA

The Rutgers alumna has a few weeks until she leaves for Salamanca, Spain, where she’ll play for Perfumerias Avenida. The club lost to Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg in last spring’s EuroLeague championship.

WNBA players don’t have the luxury of offseasons to relax and hone skills, so while there Copper said she wants to work on consistently hitting 3-point shots (30.6% in 2021), which would keep defenses honest (even more so than now) and made her quick first step to the basket even more problematic. And she’ll focus on a key part of the Sky’s offense.

“Me being a better passer will really open up a lot of different things for my game, so just working on my passing [and] sharpening up the skills I already have,” she said.

The 2022 free agency period and training camps will be the final ones before a new clause in the collective bargaining agreement kicks in allowing the league to fine and even suspend players for not showing up on time from their overseas commitments. Some have questioned if it’s a good idea, but when asked about the clause, Copper was more focused on the bigger picture.

“I think the WNBA has made major strides,” Copper told Yahoo Sports. “Coming into this 25th season, just seeing all the strides that the league has made, I think that we’re in a really good place for 25 years. For the years to come, I just want to be supportive of the league and helping it grow, but I think that time will come. Comparing it to the NBA, which everybody does, the NBA is 75 years in. What were they looking at at Year 25?

“I just think that we’re growing, we’re growing together in a really good place and I'm just excited to be able to lay down a foundation and continue to support the league for the young stars that are coming up next.”