The Phoenix Mercury front office’s number one priority is to get Brittney Griner safely home after she was wrongfully held by Russia in February. It didn’t matter if their eight-time All-Star center never played in the WNBA again.
Griner put all speculations about Griner’s basketball future to bed on Friday her first public statement since touching down on U.S. soil. It brought joy to Mercury, some of which surprised Griner. with a visit that morning.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” Griner wrote on Instagram.
It’s welcome news for the team, the league and the entire basketball fan base. Griner, 32, is a larger-than-life personality — as the world has come to see — and the season felt empty without her presence. As the WNBA Players Association said in a statement last week, “our 144 is complete.”
The Mercury front office now has the ability to jump into free agency with a clearer picture and can complete its 11 or 12 contracts. Starting Jan. 21, teams will be able to begin negotiations with Griner as their own free agents. On February 1, deals can be signed. This team will be different from the one Griner was held on 10 months ago.
Mercury’s season without Brittney Griner
The 2022 season without Griner was, in basketball terms, a difficult break for the franchise. After the front office won a fourth championship, it was all about basketball. Griner was the former No. Former No.
Tina Charles, former MVP, was signed by the Mercury to a one-year deal In one of the most exciting moves in the league. It was murky how the two centers would fare on a WNBA team together (they play together with USA Basketball), but what was crystal clear was the franchise’s catapult into top title contender.
This was a strong squad with two MVPs (Charles and Taurasi), three No. It was a strong team that included two MVPs (Charles, Taurasi), three No. 1 draft picks, five 2021 Olympians, nine single-season scoring champions, and six Diggins-Smith (Taurasi. In a three-team deal, they also acquired wing Diamond DeShields who won the 2021 title for the Chicago Sky.
The Mercury were quickly in disarray under Vanessa Nygaard as head coach for her first year. Nygaard took her first WNBA coaching job two months later. before news of Griner’s detainment went public. Two weeks into the season, cameras captured Taurasi & Diggins-Smith needing to be separated on the bench. One month later, Charles agreed to a “contract divorce” — the league’s language for a buyout — and joined the Seattle Storm. Nygaard and Diggins Smith issues continued through All-Star Weekend as they fell below.500
Phoenix was the eighth seed and final in the playoffs, but they were missing Griner (wrongfully held), Taurasi (quad injury), Diggins-Smith (personal reasonsShey Peddy (ruptured Achilles in Game 1 of the first round). Their offensive rating dropped from third (102.7) in 2021 to eighth (86.7) in 2021. They also had one of the lowest shooting percentages. Their defensive rating was about the same but they allowed five more points, and were dead last in rebounding.
The Las Vegas Aces beat the Mercury in a best of three series to win their first title. However, Robert Sarver, Mercury owner and Suns owner was en route to his first title. was suspended for a year and fined $10 million After a thorough investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct, He later announced plans to sell the teams.
Looking into 2023
The three largest roster questions for the Mercury are around their “big three” of Griner, Taurasi and Diggins-Smith. Phoenix has the fifth-most salary cap room with $881,650 of an approximate $1.42 million cap available, but will again deal with fitting in a minimum 11-player roster around its big three’s big salaries.
Griner, Taurasi, and both are unrestricted agents free agents have said they will be back With the Mercury. They each made at or slightly below the supermax of $228,094 in 2022 (Griner was still paid while wrongfully detained, but it did not count against the Mercury’s cap). It would cost them a total of $469,872 to each reach the supermax.
Although Taurasi, 40 has had to deal with injuries in recent seasons, her performance has been comparable to other performers in her 18-year career. The Mercury’s free agency decisions last offseason were an attempt to get her a fourth ring before she likely retires in the coming years. Charles and Sue Bird, among others, have had to take pay cuts in order give their players more money and increase their chances of winning a title.
Mercury own $538,850 in Diggins Smith (234,350), DeShields (1154,500) or Brianna Turn (150,000). The signing of both supermaxes would give the Mercury $411,000 to sign six players. This is the same situation as in recent years, where younger or less experienced players will be needed to complete the roster. That’s in sharp contrast to a team like the reigning champion Aces, who signed five standout starters at nearly all below $200K each.
Players with three years of experience or more are eligible for $74,305, while players with less experience earn $62,285. Peddy (restricted), Kia nurse (unrestricted), Megan Gustafson and Sophie Cunningham all played close to those marks in 2022. Cunningham is likely to seek a raise, and Peddy may be out for longer periods in rehab.
Diggins-Smith is the last question. As chemistry issues between Nygaard’s and her appeared to be increasing, she was reported to have been on the trading block before the deadline last year. She then missed the last weeks of the season, unspecified reasons. But in exit interviews, general manager Jim Pitman said he expected her back since she is under contract.
She was due to give birth to her second child in October. which is likely why she missed those games. It’s unclear if she will return next season to play. If she had announced her pregnancy at three months, then the due date would have been April or May. The WNBA season will tip off on May 19. Players get paid when they’re pregnant or on maternity leaves. It’s bubbled up as the collective bargaining opt-out approaches in a few seasons.
Everyone is different when it comes to returning to play after childbirth. Some people return to play in as little as six weeks, while others take longer. Diggins-Smith, 32 years old, returned nine weeks later after giving birth to her baby in April 2017. She later shared her difficult experiences with the Dallas Wings. two months of postpartum depression.
There is not much information about the locker room issues in Phoenix, other than Nygaard telling media about the Griner situation weighed heavily on the team daily. With Taurasi and Griner returning, the 2023 season could be a better indicator of Nygaard’s suitability. Given the return of Griner, they are top-half candidates. However, it may be hard to build a team around them that can compete at an elite level every night. That’s especially true if Diggins-Smith misses the year and Taurasi is out with another injury.