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AP

Kahleah Copper’s importance to the Sky can’t be overstated.

From the time the North Philly guard arrived in Chicago in 2017 in a trade that sent Elena Delle Donne to the Mystics, she has been shifting the Sky’s culture. A three-time All-Star and the 2021 Finals MVP, Copper has earned the moniker “Chi-Kah-Go.”

And after the departures of three franchise players, Copper’s status as the Sky’s cornerstone was solidified even further.

This season, Copper has been tasked with leading the franchise through a rebuild that former coach/general manager James Wade decided not to see through. In her seventh season with the Sky, Copper was averaging a career-high 18.4 points to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists going into the game Thursday against the Aces and trying to help secure a team-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance.

Beyond this season, there’s nothing but uncertainty regarding Copper’s status unless the Sky can sign her to a contract extension.

“Briefly,” Copper told the Sun-Times when asked if she has spoken to the franchise about an extension.

When asked about her interest in signing an extension, Copper was ambiguous.

“I’m gonna go into free agency, see what’s out there,” Copper said. “I’m not going to just close everything off. A lot has transpired this year. Being able to know what’s what, I don’t really know. I’m just going to go into free agency and enjoy it. Maybe I re-sign in Chicago. Maybe I see what’s out there.”

So an extension is not in the cards, then?

“I’m not sure,” Copper said. “I still have time, right?”

The deadline for the Sky and Copper to agree on an extension is Sept. 10, when the regular season ends. Otherwise, she becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of January.

“OK,” Copper said about the extension deadline. “We’ll see.”

The cards are in Copper’s hands.

After watching her championship teammates leave in free agency, followed by Wade, who signed her to a two-year deal, it’s understandable if there were reservations about signing now. After all, the Sky don’t even have a coach or general manager in place for 2024.

If Copper were to sign now, what would she be committing to?

The problem for the Sky is that without Copper under contract, they become far less attractive to free agents. The top free agents are set to include Jewell Loyd, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Breanna Stewart and Nneka Ogwumike.

To even be considered by top free agents, the Sky need to announce a clear plan for their own practice facility and hire a coach and a general manager who, in tandem, can lead the franchise into the future. They also need to have a competitive roster, which starts with Copper.

But without the former in place, what reason does Copper have for signing an extension?

It’s imperative for the Sky to answer that question between now and Sept. 10.

“She’s by far one of our best players,” interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said. “We want her to be here. Everybody wants her to be here. We’re doing our best to keep her here. That’s all I can say.”

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