Kahleah Copper doesn’t know what her WNBA future will look like.

With Chicago Sky head coach and general manager James Wade departing for the NBA last weekend, Copper is focused on finishing out this season strong before turning her attention to what’s next. The 3-time WNBA All-Star will be a free agent this offseason after seven years with the Sky.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Copper told the Chicago Sun-Times after Wade’s decision to leave midseason for an assistant coaching job with the Toronto Raptors. “You can’t stress the [crap] that you can’t really control.”

Copper is leading a revamped Chicago roster in 2023 after all other starters from the Sky’s 2021 WNBA championship team — Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Candace Parker and Azurá Stevens — moved away in the offseason. Before leaving, Wade had spearheaded a rebuild, signing 2021 All-Star Courtney Williams and trading away multiple first-round draft picks for guard Marina Mabrey.

“There are no optics to it,” Wade, the 2019 WNBA Coach of the Year, 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.”

“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.”

But Copper isn’t dwelling on any negative feelings.

“What does it do for me if I’m pouting about it?” Copper mused. “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.”

With the Sky organization valued at $85 million and in the process of looking for a new practice facility, Copper said she will take off-court strides into consideration when deciding whether to re-sign with the team in the offseason.

“I want to see the organization keep up with the Joneses,” Copper said. “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.”

Chicago Sky general manager and head coach James Wade is leaving the WNBA and taking an assistant coaching job with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, the Sky announced on Saturday.

Wade was Chicago’s head coach since 2019, leading the franchise to its first WNBA title in 2021.

“We are thrilled that James can fulfill a lifelong dream to join the NBA, and we send him our warmest congratulations and best wishes,” Sky Principal Owner Michael Alter said in a statement. “We thank James for establishing a winning, team-oriented culture in Chicago and leading the Sky to our first ever WNBA Championship in 2021.”

Wade’s departure is the latest in a series for the Sky. Former players Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Azurá Stevens all signed with new teams for the 2023 WNBA season, while Allie Quigley left the team but is sitting the season out.

Chicago assistant coach Emre Vatansever will serve as interim general manager and head coach, beginning immediately. Chicago (7-9) plays next on Sunday against the Indiana Fever (5-10).

As WNBA training camp continues, so do roster cuts, which led to Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud highlighting the need for expansion.

“We need more teams,” she wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “These players deserve to be on a roster. It really kills me.”

Evina Westbrook and Alisia Jenkins were waived from the Mystics’ roster on Sunday. Westbrook played six games for Washington last season, averaging 3.3 points per game. Jenkins, meanwhile, was signed to a training camp contract in February.

Of course, WNBA expansion has been a hot-button issue for the past few years as teams have continued to feel the squeeze of a 12-player roster. While the 12-team league is looking into – and is narrowing down possible locations for – expansion, there hasn’t been much movement since the end of the 2022 season.

Meanwhile, the NWSL has capitalized on the growth of women’s sports with a two-team expansion set for 2024 and another team to be added in 2025 or 2026. They’ve also added three teams in the last four years, with both Angel City FC and San Diego setting league records in the last year.

Chicago Sky head coach and general manager James Wade told the Chicago Sun-Times that he’s postponed roster cuts as long as he can.

“You want to procrastinate because you hate to see people go,” Wade said. “I wouldn’t see [putting off making my first cuts] going past tomorrow. I want to get down to 13 for Toronto. I don’t want to take 15 players [to the last preseason game].

“It’s not a birthright; it’s a privilege,” he continued. “You have to work hard to be one of the 144 best players. It doesn’t mean you’re not a great player because you didn’t make it in the WNBA. It just means you have work to do, and that’s OK. It’s tough to play in the WNBA. Some of your favorite college players can’t make it in the WNBA.”

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has addressed expansion plans, including at the WNBA draft in April. But every time, the message remains the same: soon, but not yet.

Engelbert told Sports Business Journal in early May that the league began with a list of 100 potential cities for expansion that has since been narrowed down to 20, according to The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch. That number is up from the 12 cities she said remained on the shortlist last June.

“We are not in a rush,” Engelbert said in February.

And while she had said last year that she hoped to have two new franchises start as soon as 2024, that timeline has been pushed back to 2025 at the earliest, and talks have shifted to just one new team beginning play.

WNBA roster cuts can affect even some of the league’s best. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Emily Engslter, was cut by the Fever. She’s since been picked up by the Mystics, but the news was still a stark reminder of the state of the league.

“When you see a loved one get waived, that’s when it really hits you,” Indiana’s NaLyssa Smith said. “It shows how hard it is to make it in the league. [Players] have conversations about it. It’s very unfortunate for those who do get waived because they’re talented, and we’re so young.

“I’m definitely looking forward to expansion.”

When it comes to the New York Liberty, Sabrina Ionescu is the head of the snake.

At least, that’s how Kahleah Copper describes her.

And how do you kill a snake?

You cut off its head.

Candace Parker, left, celebrates with Courtney Vandersloot during the Sky's 100-62 win. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

In Game 1 of the Liberty’s first-round series against the defending champion Chicago Sky, Ionescu scored 22 points and recorded six assists to lead No. 7 seed New York to an upset win.

In Game 2, the Oregon grad was held to just seven points and three assists, and No. 2 seed Chicago secured a lopsided 100-62 victory — the largest margin in WNBA playoff history — to force a deciding Game 3.

The difference largely came down to the defensive assignment. This time around, Copper matched up with Ionescu, as opposed to the first game, when Vandersloot drew Ionescu and Copper matched up with Betnijah Laney.

Copper bothered New York’s star guard from the jump.

“It was important for me to defend her,” Copper said after Saturday’s game. “I gotta be able to make it as hard as possible for her, so that’s what I wanted to do.”

Copper accomplished her mission. The game marked just the fourth time this season that Ionescu posted fewer than 10 points and fewer than five assists in the same contest.

“She’s special because she plays both ends of the floor, and I think that gets undervalued a lot,” Sky coach James Wade said of Copper, who not only played suffocating defense but also scored 20 points. “Her ability to be disruptive and then on the other hand get us buckets and actually draw defenses — it sets a tone, and the tone is really what we need.”

Chicago’s defensive intensity, sparked by Copper, represented a complete shift from Game 1. The Sky put a major emphasis on defending the 3-point line, closing out hard, putting hands up and making sure the Liberty didn’t get uncontested looks.

The Liberty score 36.5 percent of their points from the 3-point line and have made 394 on the season, ranking first in the WNBA in both categories.

In their opening game victory Wednesday, the Liberty shot 44 percent from beyond the arc, making 11 of 25 attempts. The long-range offense came from everywhere, as seven players made at least one 3-pointer. Ionescu and Stefanie Dolson led the team with three makes apiece.

In Game 2, New York went cold from long range, making just three attempts — Ionescu, Han Xu and Rebecca Allen each had one — and shooting 15 percent from beyond the arc. The Liberty’s shooting from 2-point range wasn’t much better, as they shot 33 percent, finishing with 23 total field goals.

“It was important because we know they like to shoot 3s and they are a successful team when they make them,” Wade said. “So we wanted to make sure that if they get 3s off that they are contested, and they weren’t as open as they were in the first game.”

Emma Meesseman, Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky forced a deciding Game 3 in New York on Tuesday. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Natasha Howard — who scored 22 points in the first game — led the Liberty starters with eight points Saturday, while Dolson and Laney each had just one field goal for two points apiece. Crystal Dangerfield rounded out the unit’s scoring with four points.

Meanwhile, Han and Michaela Onyenwere led New York with 10 points each, and the bench unit outscored the starters, 39-23.

“We were struggling everywhere,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “We need our starters to set us off a little bit and hopefully we can build up from there.”

The sentiment that New York struggled everywhere was far from an exaggeration. The offense looked disjointed and lacked the crips passes and ball movement that led to the team’s success Wednesday.

In addition to the poor shooting, the Liberty committed 19 turnovers and only grabbed three offensive rebounds. Turnovers outnumbered 15 total assists for New York.

“A lot of it was our turnovers for easy baskets,” Brondello said. “They’re one of the best teams in the league in the open court, and Copper certainly got them going … We have to be a little more resilient, taking care of the ball. We really made a lot of bad decisions, like the quick shots. I was not happy with that.”

After the bounce-back victory, the No. 2 Sky will have to win on the road to advance to the semifinals, as Game 3 will take place Tuesday in New York.

Heading into the postseason, Wade expressed frustration with the format, saying, “You always want the deciding game, if there’s a Game 3, to be at the higher seed’s home. I’m not a fan of it at all; I don’t think any coaches are.”

But he changed his opinion Saturday.

“I’m OK with (going on the road),” he said. “Because the thing is, if we wouldn’t have lost game 1, this game wouldn’t have been on the road. You know if we play like that, it doesn’t matter where we play. We could play on the moon. But we have to be who we gonna be, and that will dictate everything.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.