The Phoenix Mercury go into their 21st WNBA season with a major roster overhaul. Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner are the only returning players from 2016 when the Mercury were eliminated in the playoff semifinals.
Credit: Jeff Metcalfe, Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic
Seven months ago when Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner talked about possible changes for the Phoenix Mercury, they had no idea what was coming.
Now, they are the only two players back on a team that reached the WNBA playoff semifinals last season, with 10 new teammates going into the Mercury’s 21st season starting Sunday.
It’s an unprecedented roster turnover that might not be complete yet depending on who becomes available in cuts around the 12-team league this week. Arizona State forward Sophie Brunner, an undrafted free agent, made it through the first wave of camp cuts to media day Monday, but General Manager Jim Pitman might not be done making moves.
Taurasi, going into her 13th season just 178 points away from becoming the WNBA career scoring leader, and 6-9 center Griner, in her fifth season, seem energized by the new look Mercury following a season in which the organization tried to win a fourth title with the 2014 starting lineup.
‘A lot of new faces, it’s kind of exciting’
“It’s been a big overhaul,” Taurasi said. “Early you see the benefits of what management has done with adding Camille (Little), getting Danielle (Robinson). The things that we’ve lacked especially in the playoffs, that inside toughness, that quickness on the perimeter. You just see how that energy affects the game throughout 40 minutes. That’s the one thing I’ve seen the biggest difference in.
“It’s almost like being a rookie again. A lot of new faces. It’s kind of exciting, getting to learn new people, seeing their game and trying to incorporate that into what Sandy (Brondello) wants us to get done on the court.”
Taurasi and Griner did not play in either preseason game but were back from Russia, where they won a hard-fought championship series, to see the Mercury’s 72-55 win over Seattle on Sunday. Robinson and Little, acquired in trades, were in the starting lineup as they likely will be to start the season, perhaps with rookie forward Stephanie Talbot replacing Penny Taylor (retired), DeWanna Bonner (pregnant) and Candice Dupree (traded).
‘Already meshing personality-wise’
“I’m very comfortable with this roster,” Griner said. “We’re already meshing personality-wise, being together in the locker room. We all know our roles. We all have to hold each other accountable, and I can sense that’s going to be done on this team and what’s going to make us a better team this year.”
The Mercury lost their first four games and six of their first eight last season, creating a season-long struggle simply to make the eight-team playoffs. They advanced in single-game playoff rounds with wins over Indiana and New York before losing 3-0 to Minnesota in the semifinals. Los Angeles then won a tense five-game series over Minnesota for its third WNBA title.
“We didn’t start off strong and dug a hole,” Griner said. “We were trying to dig out and people were throwing dirt in there the whole season. That puts a strain on you. It puts a strain on us mentally, physically. It’s not a situation we want to be in again. We definitely want to get out to a good start.”
Whether the team will be cohesive enough for a fast start in May (two games vs. Dallas, one each vs. Indiana, San Antonio and New York, all but one at home) is an open question. What helps is that Cayla George, Leilani Mitchell and Shay Murphy are in their second stints with the Mercury, all playing previously with Taurasi and Griner under fourth-year coach Brondello.
‘You see their chemistry on court already’
George, Mitchell and Talbot were teammates on the 2016 Australian Olympic team.
“You see their chemistry on court already,” said Brondello, recently named Australian National team coach through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “That hopefully will accelerate the chemistry with everyone else around them.
“I like our versatility in all our players. We’ve got a good inside-outside presence. Obviously we shot the 3 ball well (against Seattle) and we didn’t even have Diana Taurasi, the best player of all time. We’ve got players that can break you down. I’m excited to see how all the pieces fit.”
WNBA career scoring
1. Tina Thompson, 7,488 points
2. Tamika Catching, 7,380
3. Diana Taurasi, 7,311
4. Katie Smith, 6,452
5. Cappie Pondexter, 6,312
2017 Phoenix Mercury schedule
Sunday, May 14 – Dallas, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, May 17 – Indiana, 7 p.m., TV: FSAZ.
Friday, May 19 – at San Antonio, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, May 23 – New York, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 27 – Dallas, 7 p.m., TV: FSAZ.
Thursday, June 1 – at Chicago, 5 p.m.
Sunday, June 4 – at New York, noon
Wednesday, June 7 – at Indiana, 4 p.m.
Saturday, June 10 – Los Angeles, 7 p.m.
Friday, June 16 – Chicago, 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 18 – at Los Angeles, 2 p.m.
Friday, June 23 – at Seattle, 7 p.m.
Friday, June 30 – Minnesota, 7 p.m., TV: FSAZ Plus.
Wednesday, July 5 – Washington, 7 p.m.
Friday, July 7 – at San Antonio, 5 p.m.
Sunday, July 9 – New York, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, July 12 – Atlanta, 7 p.m., TV: FSAZ.
Friday, July 14 – Minnesota, 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 16 – at Minnesota, 4 p.m., TV: FSAZ.
Wednesday, July 19 – Indiana, 12:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 25 – at Atlanta, 4 p.m., TV: FSAZ Plus.
Friday, July 28 – at Chicago, 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 30 – San Antonio, 3 p.m., TV: FSAZ.
Friday, August 4 – at Connecticut, 4 p.m.
Sunday, August 6 – at Washington, noon
Thursday, August 10 – at Dallas, 5 p.m., ESPN2
Saturday, August 12 – Seattle, 7 p.m.
Friday, August 18 – at Washington, 4 p.m.
Sunday, August 20 – at Connecticut, noon
Tuesday, August 22 – at Minnesota, 5 p.m., TV: FSAZ Plus.
Thursday, August 24 – Los Angeles, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Sunday, August 27 – at Seattle, 4 p.m.
Friday, September 1 – Connecticut, 7 p.m.
Sunday, September 3 – Atlanta, 1 p.m.