February 6, 2024 

The pros and cons of the Phoenix Mercury’s trade for Kahleah Copper

‘The opportunity to add a player of Kahleah’s caliber in the prime of her career is rare’ said Phoenix’s GM

The Phoenix Mercury made their biggest move of the offseason so far Tuesday, trading for three-time WNBA All-Star and 2021 champion Kahleah Copper from the Chicago Sky.

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The Mercury gave up the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, a first-round pick in the 2026 draft, a 2025 second-round pick the Mercury originally acquired from the Sky and and the rights to a 2026 second-round pick swap. They also traded forwards Michaela Onyenwere and Brianna Turner. In addition to Copper, the Mercury received forward Morgan Bertsch from Chicago.

Copper, 29, had perhaps the best season of her WNBA career last season. She averaged a career-high 18.7 points per game and shot 40.4% from 3-point range on a career-high 171 attempts. Her shooting ability will add a much-needed boost to a team that was 10th the league last year with a 32.5% 3-point percentage.

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Copper brings durability to a Mercury team that was decimated by injuries in 2023. Over the last four seasons, she has missed just seven games total.

“The opportunity to add a player of Kahleah’s caliber in the prime of her career is rare,” said Mercury general manager Nick U’Ren in a press release. “She is one of the most dynamic and athletic players in our league, with a true knack for scoring the ball. She is also a fierce competitor, proven champion and the ultimate two-way player, who can disrupt the game on the defensive end with her length and activity.”

The trade moves Turner, who has struggled mightily the past two seasons. In 2023, she seemed hesitant to shoot. She averaged a career-low 3.5 PPG despite having back Brittney Griner, whose presence allowed Turner to excel to an extent offensively in 2021. And the acquisition of Bertsch gives the Mercury depth off the bench, as she averaged 4.4 points per game last season and shot 44.4% from three.

“Morgan is a sharpshooter and savvy defender — we are excited for the energy and scoring punch she can provide off the bench,” U’Ren said in the release.

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While the move has its positives, it has its negatives. Phoenix is giving up its future to win now. By trading the 2024 No. 3 pick, the Mercury are potentially passing up on a generational talent such as UConn’s Paige Bueckers (if she declares for the draft). It is not often that No. 1 pick talent is available at No. 3, but with Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Stanford’s Cameron Brink likely going No. 1 and No. 2, Bueckers could be available at No. 3. And while Bueckers could return to UConn, her numbers this season are beyond efficient. In BIG EAST conference play alone, her 2-point percentage is 67.7%, and her 3-point percentage is 45.3%. Overall on the season, she is averaging 20.3 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game.

Phoenix is giving up depth and versatility by trading Onyenwere. Last season she had a breakout campaign and proved she could play inside if needed and outside when called upon to do so. She averaged a career-high 8.9 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game and 1.3 assists per game.

Acquiring Copper also pairs her with Sophie Cunningham. Cunningham and Copper have a history. In the 2021 Finals between Phoenix and Chicago, the two got in a bit of a scuffle when fighting for a rebound.

While there is a negative history between Phoenix and its new wing, Copper seemed excited to join the Mercury in an Instagram post Tuesday.

“Phoenix ahhhhhh I’m ready and #ALLIN!” Copper posted. “To my new teammates and coaches: you’re getting all of me. My hunger, my desire, my competitive spirit. Every. Damn. Possession. X-Factor, I can’t wait to be on your side and bring another championship back to The Valley. Let’s get it!”

Acquiring Copper and Bertsch also means Phoenix does not have much room left salary-cap-wise. Copper is set to make $241,984 this season. Assuming Bertsch, who is a reserved player, signs her $64,154 qualifying offer, Phoenix will gain $70,448 in salary with this trade. This is because Turner and Onyenwere combine for $235,690 in salary this season. Including training camp contracts, the Mercury currently have $1,183,882 on the books. That leaves Phoenix with $279,318 left to spend this season, with most of that certainly going to Griner, who is a free agent and has no plans to leave the Mercury. With this lack of space, Phoenix will have mostly minimum-contract players making up its depth this season.

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Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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