Sky surprise: All-star forward Copper traded to Phoenix

The Sky pulled off a major trade Tuesday, sending all-star Kahleah Copper to Phoenix for two players and three draft picks.

The move was both shocking and unsurprising, if that's possible. Copper agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Sky just before the 2023 season ended, staking a commitment to the franchise and city. When the deal was signed, her future with the Sky appeared secure.

The plan was to build a winning team around her, but there were few takers in free agency. The Sky missed out on targets like Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike, who both landed with the Seattle Storm. Two key Sky players from last season, Alanna Smith and Courtney Williams, chose to sign elsewhere. So this trade is a sudden shift to a new direction.

At the same time, a star player leaving the Sky is nothing new. From Candace Dupree to Sylvia Fowles to Elena Delle Donne to Courtney Vandersloot, the team's best players have typically moved elsewhere.

The Sky has talked about securing a practice facility to become a more desirable destination for players, but no plans have been announced. Adding some fresh faces in the ownership group, including NBA legend Dwyane Wade, and a new coach in Teresa Weatherspoon didn't help.

On the positive side, this trade gets the Sky back into the 2024 WNBA Draft, since they received the No. 3 overall pick from Phoenix. The team traded its own first-rounder, which would have been No. 5, to Dallas for guard Marina Mabrey last year.

The obvious question is, does the Sky have any chance of landing Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark? That would be no. If she joins the WNBA Draft this year, she's a virtual lock to be chosen No. 1 by Indiana. It's also possible Clark could use her COVID-19 year and play another season at Iowa, where her popularity is obviously at unprecedented levels.

Some players that could be available with the No. 3 draft pick are Stanford center Cameron Brink, UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards, LSU forward Angel Reese, South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso and UConn guard Paige Bueckers.

The Sky also received a second-round pick in 2025, which is their own previously traded selection, and a 2026 first-rounder from Phoenix.

The players heading to the Sky in the deal are 6-foot forward Michaela Onyenwere and 6-3 forward Brianna Turner. Onyenwere, 24, was WNBA rookie of the year in 2021. Last year in Phoenix, she averaged 8.9 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Turner is a former Notre Dame star. She tore her ACL in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, then missed the following season when the Irish won the national championship. Turner averaged 7.8 points and 9.4 rebounds for the Mercury last year.

The Sky is building a nucleus of Notre Dame products. Mabrey, Turner, free-agent addition Lindsay Allen and training camp invitee Taya Reimer were teammates on the 2015-16 Irish squad.

At the moment, the Sky roster includes just two players who averaged double-figure points in the WNBA last season, Mabrey and free-agent addition Diamond DeShields. The 6-1 DeShields, 28, played for the Sky from 2018-21, then averaged 13.1 points for Phoenix last year.

Besides Mabrey, the holdovers from last year's squad are center Elizabeth Williams, guard Dana Evans and forward Isabelle Harrison, who missed the season with a knee injury.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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