Phoenix Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers-Drysdale spoke with Swish Appeal in an exclusive interview last week and talked about the challenges of trying to bring back the 2009 championship roster.
The Phoenix Mercury have four key players that are free agents this off-season including stars Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor and starters Le'Coe Wilingham and Temeka Johnson and it will be a challenge to bring them all back and keep their championship roster in tact.
"Certainly we are hoping to bring them back," said Meyers-Drysdale about the team's roster situation. "It's a little bit more of a challenge because the salary cap has been changed - a little bit lower. That will make it tough. We were very happy with the players we had, we'd love to bring them all back. Is that possible? I don't know. I don't know. I would say probably 90% that we might not be able to have everybody back that we had (on) last year's championship team...We've got some players with high salaries and we're looking to sign some players with high salaries and whether we can do that or not, whether we can juggle things around that remains to be seen."
The 2010 salary cap was slated to be $827,000 but has been reduced in a cost saving measure to $775,000 although the players salary scale was not impacted. That reduction of $52,000 is the equivalent of one mid-salary range player.
Under contract for the Mercury this season are Diana Tuarasi who has one year left on her deal and then Tangela Smith, Nicole Ohlde, Kelly Mazzante and DeWanna Bonner who will be on the second year of her rookie scale contract. The team holds the rights to reserves Ketia Swanier and Brooke Smith. It is possible that the Mercury could try and trade or somehow clear one or more of those contracts.
The priority for Ann will be to bring back as many core players as possible and replicate the continuity with veterans that sustained the dynasties in Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles.
Asked specifically if there was a chance that Penny Taylor and/or Cappie Pondexter wouldn't return Ann had some encouraging news for fans, "I'm not looking at that. I don't even question that they'll come back. We'll have the salary for them."
In addition, Ann stated the bringing point guard Temeka Johnson back was also a priority.
The start of the free agency period was pushed back from December 15th to January 1st. At that point teams can start negotiating with free agents and contracts can be signed starting January 15th. Meyers-Drysdale said that it is difficult to know how long it will take for things to fall into place but it could take right up to the start of the season in May.
Many teams will be trying to sort out their situation and the dual new realities of a reduced salary cap and one less team in the league with the loss of the Sacramento Monarchs.
"There's going to be some really terrific players out there that won't be on teams this year that played last year. And that's just the nature of the beast," said Ann.
The reduction to 12 teams will increase the overall level of competition which should be a good thing for the league in general even while it impacts some players. Ann is always one for finding the positive in any situation and did so here, "I like the twelve teams. I like that it's a stronger league...I'm all about making the league better."
Another change for the WNBA this season from last is the schedule that was moved up several weeks to accommodate the 2010 World Championships which start at the end of September. Like in 2008, that will mean many players whose European teams are in the tournament will arrive late and possibly miss training camp.
Last season, the Mercury talked repeatedly about the advantage of having a full training camp but likely will not have that luxury this season, which was also the case in 2008 when the team didn't make the playoffs coming off their 2007 championship run.
In addition to the reduction in roster spots, the league mandated the reduction of one assistant coaching position for this season. The Mercury haven't yet decided between Bridget Pettis or Julie Hairgrove.
"We're still working on things. I haven't made any decision on that and that probably won't come down for awhile," said Meyers-Drysdale, while also acknowledging that each franchise is dealing with this issue differently and there is the potential for other staff positions to be created.
From increased competition from teams like the Sparks and Lynx to a challenging financial environment, Ann is still positive about the up-coming season and is looking for team to be in the mix for another ring.