Story and photos by Devin Millington, June 2019 Issue.
This winter saw the Phoenix Mercury heating up and not always for the good. For instance, one of the first off-season moves was to fire Assistant Coach Todd Trexel after he was charged with domestic violence. The charges against Trexel were later dropped by prosecutors due to Trexel’s fiancé’s refusal to cooperate. Nonetheless, this situation has provided the Mercury with an exciting opportunity to elevate former Mercury player (and wife of Diana Taurasi) Penny Taylor to assistant coach. Taylor spent the 2018 season taking care of her infant son Leo, born just weeks before the season opener. Don’t be surprised to see an all-female coaching staff!
Regarding player moves, the Mercury tried to sign Sparks guard and Baylor alum Odyssey Sims, but the Sparks matched the Mercury offer for the restricted free agent, ending the chance to reunite Sims with her college center, Brittney Griner.
Days later, the Mercury successfully snatched flamboyant guard and 10-year veteran Essence Carson away from the Sparks. The six-foot guard joins an already bloated backcourt, which could make for an interesting pre-season. XFactor member and basketball aficionado Lorri Cap gave a thumb’s up to the Carson acquisition, saying, “It comes down to winning championships and Carson has the rings and experience. The Mercury organization has been focusing on the notion that experience wins championships, so I’m excited to see how she plays with our ladies and give (Carson) support, even though she came from LA.”
Injured forward Sancho Lyttle re-signed with the Mercury, but her health status is still a bit of a mystery. Lyttle blew out her ACL midseason last year and has been rehabbing away from the team facilities, according to a Mercury senior official. “All player contracts are up to Jim (Pittman). I’m sure Jim was confident in Sancho’s health when the contract was signed. The team will know exactly what’s up with Sancho once she reports to training camp,” says Bryce Marsee.
Mercury General Manager Jim Pittman selected Stanford forward Alanna Smith in the first round (eighth pick) of the 2019 WNBA draft in April. The Aussie has been coached by Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello for their national team, so the pick was not surprising. Smith was the most efficient scorer in 2018-19 and averaged 19.6 PPG and 8.6 RPG last season with Stanford. Late in the first round, Pittman took part in a multi-team trade, resulting in the Mercury trading away center Marie Gülich for Notre Dame star forward Brianna Turner. The team then picked up Missouri standout Sophie Cunningham. In the final round of the draft, Pittman selected Louisville guard Arica Carter. Of all the players selected, Alanna Smith will likely be the only rookie the Mercury keep, but Brianna Turner could come out of training camp in the 12th player slot.
Bonner’s Back, Again
After missing the 2017 season, DeWanna Bonner resumed her place among the Mercury Big Three, playing so large the WNBA named her Comeback Player of the Year for 2018. That kind of play also brings about labels, as in Core Player. 2019 marks the second year in a row the Mercury has saddled Bonner with the designation. Bonner is in a unique situation, as her wife and former Mercury starting forward Candice Dupree is now with the Indiana Fever. It’s fair to say they’d like to be on the same team again. With Bonner likely to be tagged as a Core Player for an additional two years, a reunion will likely not happen for a while.
Taurasi just experienced her first full winter of resting. Briann January rested and rehabbed after off-season shoulder surgery. January also spent the winter as a member of the Arizona State University Women’s basketball coaching staff. Mercury forward Camille Little has been MIA, not showing up overseas or in the news. Cap speculates Little will not be with the Mercury this summer.
Around the W
Health is always the key to any successful run at a championship and since this is a women’s game, pregnancy always affects teams. This year the Dallas Wings are dealing with all-star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith’s pregnancy. The Wings are also dealing with their star center Liz Cambage demanding a trade. The Minnesota Lynx’s perennial all-star Maya Moore is sitting out the 2019 season, making theirs a season of somnambulating and likely missing the playoffs. Meanwhile, the defending champions Seattle Storm suffered a monumental blow when 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles tendon while playing for Russia in Euro League’s Championship game in mid-April. Stewart had surgery to repair the tear and will likely sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season.
With all the tumult and injuries throughout the league, it’s tough to predict who will find success. The West has been the stronger conference for several years, but the East may be making a comeback. Connecticut will be a contender with Atlanta battling them in the rankings. As for the West, it looks like Phoenix will battle their arch rival, the Los Angeles Sparks, for the top spot. If the Mercury can stay healthy and find a couple of lucky pennies, they have the best shot at taking it all. And if the Mercury win their fourth WNBA Championship, most people will expect Taurasi to retire, but she won’t. 2020 will be her final year in the W!