WNBA’s Kahleah Copper, Napheesa Collier, Jewell Loyd went on to
Superteams may be the talking point of the 2023 WNBA season, but a different phenomenon more accurately describes what the league is going through up and down right now: a changing of the guard.
Greats Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired last year – the former had become synonymous with the Seattle Storm franchise, and the latter was the last remaining vestige of the Minnesota Lynx dynasty in the 2010s.
Other organizations have also experienced significant changes. 2021 champion Chicago Sky saw the departure of franchise stalwarts Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and local hero Candace Parker.
Gone is the ‘old’, make way for the ‘new’ – in this case, new faces. The Storm and Sky turned to their oldest remaining players to take on the role: Jewell Loyd, the 2015 No. 1 draft pick, and Kahleah Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP. The Lynx passed the baton to their longtime heiress Napheesa Collier, their 2019 first-round selection.
All three players are under 30. The trio were named All-Stars. And now, all three are looking to propel their franchises into their next chapters, whether it’s battling for championships or building for the future.
Collier ushers in a new era for Lynx
The Lynx won four championships between 2011 and 2017 to become one of the most decorated franchises in league history. That era officially ended after last season when all of the icons behind that run – Fowles, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson – had retired.
Collier has for some time been selected as the next player to lead the Lynx franchise. The UConn Huskies graduate and Tokyo Olympian has been a star in every full WNBA season she’s played, and when the league didn’t host the event in 2020, she came fifth in MVP voting.
Collier missed the majority of the 2022 campaign after giving birth to her daughter, Mila, in late May, but returned to court one last time with Fowles, appearing in Minnesota’s final four regular-season contests.
Things are different without Fowles. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve implemented a new offensive system based on spacing and attacking. And now more than ever, the organization insists that its priority is not to win now but to grow in the future.
But abandoning Minnesota’s championship standard altogether isn’t an option either.
“Obviously this is a dynasty organization, so to have this on my shoulders now, I take it really seriously,” Collier said. “I want to appreciate the people who came before me and make sure I lead the team in the right direction.”
“She’s been groomed for the handover, the leadership handover, and I think she’s really ready for now.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve on Napheesa Collier
Collier isn’t the team’s only vet, but she’s the only captain. It’s the first time in Reeve’s tenure that multiple players haven’t been given the role.
Collier incorporates elements of what she learned from Augustus, Fowles and previous coaches into her approach to leadership. Even the documentary ‘The Last Dance’ is inspirational: Collier says she doesn’t want to take on the aggressive approach Michael Jordan has taken to holding his teammates accountable, but sees the importance of it.
“I feel like this has been brewing for her for four years,” Reeve said. “I think she’s been groomed for the handover, the leadership handover, and I think she’s really ready for now.”
Copper, Sky is still looking to wrestle
Kahleah Copper drops 8 straight points for Sky
Kahleah Copper is automatic as she knocks down three consecutive baskets to extend Sky’s lead.
Less than two years ago, Kahleah Copper was part of a stacked roster that won Chicago’s first championship. The Sky were in contention to repeat in 2022 before a shock semi-final loss at home to the Connecticut Sun.
Within months, Copper – who had re-signed with Chicago on a two-year contract in February 2022 – was the only remaining Sky core player: Vandersloot, Parker and Azura Stevens signed with various teams as free agents. , while Quigley and Emma Meesseman opted out of the WNBA this year.
Instead of choosing to rebuild, general manager/head coach James Wade sought to build a team around Copper that could challenge for a championship. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights product jokes she took on the role of assistant GM during free agency as she helped Wade build a team now including new additions Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Isabelle Harrison.
“You couldn’t ask for a better chef.”
Sky Coach James Wade on Kahleah Copper
In previous Sky teams, Copper has played a bigger role in leadership given the experience and stature of the greats alongside him. Taking on this new position, she admitted at the start of training camp, is “difficult”, but not something she is unprepared for.
Copper sees herself as a natural leader, someone who, despite her current stardom, can relate to players who are still working to find their place in the league – after all, she was a role player herself. not so long ago. And on a team that’s been talked about as having so many strong personalities, Copper says she encourages her teammates to be themselves.
She’s absorbed the leadership qualities of Parker and Vandersloot, but sees it as a new chapter in Chicago Sky basketball — and “there’s nothing wrong with the new one,” she said.
“The communication has been really good, me understanding her, her understanding me and the staff and what we’re trying to do and the vision we have,” Wade said. “She’s been very good at executing that and explaining it to the players around who are new and kind of helping them settle in. So you can’t ask for a better leader.”
Loyd directs young Storm
This season was always going to be a year of transition for the Storm once Bird announced she was retiring at the end of the 2022 campaign. The new era solidified when Breanna Stewart, two-time Finals MVP, opted to sign with the New York Liberty in February.
Jewell Loyd isn’t the only vet in Seattle: In free agency, the Storm brought back Sami Whitcomb, who was part of their recent title-winning teams, and they still have Mercedes Russell, who missed the majority of 2022 due to health issues but has been in Seattle since 2018.
But with Loyd the only remaining member of the Big Three who defined Storm basketball through its two-championship streak in three seasons, the former Notre Dame great is the new face of the franchise.
Seattle and Loyd got a taste of what it would look like in 2019, when Stewart and Bird missed the entire season due to injuries. And even with those two on the floor, Loyd — a four-time All-Star, a two-time All-WNBA pick and a Tokyo Olympian — often took and delivered big shots in big moments.
This year will be different regardless, with more than half of Storm’s roster made up of players with three years of experience or less. Loyd knows she’ll carry more of the offensive load without sacrificing efficiency, and that her perimeter defense remains essential.
Loyd, like Copper and Collier, knows one thing for sure: they can’t try to replicate the old guard in the way they operate on the pitch and even in the way they lead. The best approach is to be the best versions of themselves as actors and leaders and put their own stamp on their organizations.
“I came into the league with a team full of veterans…I saw what leadership looks like from different people, different perspectives,” Loyd said. “I’m not Sue, I’m not Stewie, I’m not AC. It comes a little differently for me. I’ve been in this position before. I didn’t have to do it here, but I’m definitely ready for it and I’m excited for it.”