Kahleah Copper, Natasha Cloud excited for new beginnings with Phoenix Mercury

From competitors last season to teammates in 2024, Kahleah Copper, left, and Natasha Cloud aim to reposition the Phoenix Mercury atop the WNBA standings after going 9-31 in 2023. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The 2023 WNBA season was one to forget for the Phoenix Mercury. Despite the triumphant return of Brittney Griner, the team struggled to a 9-31 record and last-place finish.

On June 25, the Mercury fired second-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard after a 2-10 start. Questions about Skylar Diggins-Smith and her dissociation with the team hung over the organization for the duration of the season. On July 10, it culminated in general manager Jim Pitman announcing that he was stepping down at the end of the season, clearing the way for the Mercury to start fresh.

Enter Nate Tibbetts and Nick U’Ren.

Tibbetts as the head coach and U’Ren as the general manager have already created plenty of buzz in their first offseason with the Mercury. They picked up two superstar-caliber players in Natasha Cloud and Kahleah Copper, in addition to adding the talented Rebecca Allen.

“I think we were able to add multiple players that defend, that play make and that have a ton of positional versatility,” U’Ren said. “My first time going through this experience, but it was great to be in the room with some of these players and be able to talk to them face to face, be able to interact with them and articulate kind of our vision of how we plan to conduct ourselves within this organization, how we plan to build this roster.”

Cloud was the first domino to fall, announcing her decision live on ESPN’s WNBA free agency special on Feb. 1. She spent the first nine years of her career with the Washington Mystics, being named to the WNBA All-Defensive Team multiple times and winning a championship in 2019.

Year after year, Cloud’s number ticked up, and in 2023 she reached career highs of 12.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. She also finished with the third-highest assists per game average of her career at 6.2.

“I think for me what felt great was how intentional Phoenix was with me in this free agency,” Cloud said. “To be sought after the way that Phoenix sought after me was amazing. So that feels good for a player that hasn’t necessarily felt valued.”

Then, on Feb. 6, the Mercury shook up the league by trading the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA draft to the Chicago Sky for 2021 Finals MVP Copper.

Copper averaged a career-high 18.7 points in 2023 when she was named to her third straight All-Star team, all the while propelling the Sky to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

“One thousand percent, I think this is a roster that’s going to compete for a championship, I think with the experience that we have,” Copper said. “(Cloud) winning a championship, (Allen) playing in big games in the playoffs, (Griner and Diana Taurasi) having that championship experience also and myself, so we all know what it takes to get there to the big stage. So there’s no doubt in my mind that we can put it all together and compete.”

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Cloud and Copper have a lot in common as scrappy two-way guards from the Philadelphia area. They’ve both found their footing as of late in the league, earning individual accolades and winning WNBA championships with their former teams.

Now, they both make their way to the Valley, excited to see what the Mercury and X-Factor have to offer. The Mercury, through its ups and downs, has maintained the second-highest average attendance total in the league this past season, with the X-Factor regularly showing out in full force.

“Every experience I’ve had with the fans has been very interesting, but I think that that crowd, what it does for the players and just for women’s basketball, in general, is one of the biggest things for me of what I like about the organization,” Copper said.

“Let me tell you, the X-Factor has always shown me love,” Cloud added. “Nine years in a different organization, I always felt loved the minute that I walked into Phoenix, even fans that would wait for us coming out of the hotels or after games. It’s always been nothing but love and positivity and support. So coming in, I’m just really excited to be a part of an amazing fan base.”

While Cloud is elated to get to work on the court with the Mercury, she’s also looking forward to embracing the community and carrying her social activism work with her to Phoenix.

Cloud is one of the most outspoken players in the league on topics such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ-plus rights and recently, she’s taken to social media to express her sentiments and support for Palestinians and Gaza.

As a part of the Mercury, Cloud is looking forward to working with the organization in its local community efforts, and Griner, who stands with Cloud as one of the WNBA’s most outspoken individuals.

“I love that Phoenix fully supports their players and what they’re passionate about off the court and what their activism is about off the court,” Cloud said. “So understanding that I still have the freedom to be me as an activist and really just continue to get into good trouble, I’m really excited. … It is very important for me to also figure out what the community of Phoenix needs and to continue to be that voice for the voiceless and amplify those things to the best of my ability.”

As for on the court, Copper and Cloud are ready to get to work. Cloud described the Mercury’s current roster of her, Copper, Allen, Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham as “a point guard’s dream.” Although Griner hasn’t officially resigned with the team, Cloud also mentioned her in that group.

Copper is happy to be a part of an incoming group that will help bolster Phoenix’s defense which held the league’s worst defensive rating in 2023.

“I’m bringing what I bring offensively defensively, and also you know what we have on this roster now, bringing Natasha Cloud, Rebecca Allen,” Copper said. “I think these are all players who can play both offensively and defensively and just taking some pressure off of Diana and BG. They don’t have to get every bucket. It’s going to be pretty spread out. So I think that we bring in, definitely, a lot more defense to this team but offensive power also.”

With loads of new talent on its way to Phoenix and a brand new staff at the helm, the Mercury are ready to get back to its winning ways. U’Ren, Cloud and Copper are just a few of the key pieces of this 2024 team hoping to make it back to the playoffs and back to the top of the league.

“It was everything from top to bottom, Mat (Ishbia), Nick, Nate, the front office, Monica (Wright Rogers),” Cloud said about her decision to join Phoenix. “You could tell how hungry they are, to in a sense rebuild, and really do this thing the right way and invest and be one of those top teams. … Phoenix is that new team that is investing into not only their organizations but into their players both on and off the court. … With moving, I wanted to be a part of that investment and that passion that a front office has for making their team a winning team.”

Tia Reid(she/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Tia Reid expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in African and African American studies. Reid previously worked as a production intern with ESPN and in production and on-camera with the Pac-12 Network.