When Swish Appeal spoke to Phoenix Mercury General Manager Ann Myers-Drysdale in December, she suggested that the team might not bring their championship roster back in tact due to salary cap constraints.
Earlier today, the first departure occurred with forward Le'coe Willingham leaving for the Seattle Storm.
"Unfortunately, we weren’t in a position to sign her for the 2010 season," said Meyers-Drysdale in an email today. "Le’Coe was a key player in our championship success, and we wish her the best in Seattle and for the rest of her career."
The opportunity to show her skills on a championship team after coming off the bench for the first four years of her career is exactly what attracted the Storm to Willingham, according to their website.
STORM: Willingham Adds Quality Depth for Storm
Even with the Mercury adding All-Star Penny Taylor and Sixth Woman Award-winner DeWanna Bonner, Willingham held on to her starting role and averaged 10.0 points and 4.2 rebounds a year ago. That performance impressed Brian Agler, the Storm's head coach and director of player personnel.
So what exactly does Willingham bring to the Storm? As one might expect from one of the Mercury's key contributors, scoring off the bench.
Last season, the Storm finished a distant last in bench scoring at 12.09 points per game (6.73 points behind #12 Indiana). As such, the team often relied heavily on its starters to carry the load, particularly guards Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright with Lauren Jackson injured. However, while her scoring is immediately evident, her rebounding -- particularly her offensive rebounding -- will also be a huge asset.
The Storm were also last in 2nd chance points with 9.68 per game. Willingham is not among the league's top offensive rebounders, but her offensive rebounding percentage of 17.40% last season was higher than any significant contributor on the Storm roster (forward Camille Little had 15.42%). Obviously, Willingham might have gotten a lot of those rebounds on transition plays, but it's clearly another asset for the Storm.
As previously noted, Willingham might not be a huge loss for the Mercury although she played significant minutes in their championship run.
Phoenix Mercury Free Agency Breakdown: How Much Do the Mercury Need Willingham? - Swish Appeal
Strange as it may sound, Willingham is the only "pure scorer" on the Mercury in the sense that scoring is what she tends to offer most. She isn’t necessarily a poor rebounder – her offensive rebounding rate last season was solid – but she only averaged 4.2 rebounds per game on a team that puts up a lot of shots.
Assuming DeWanna Bonner improves and Taylor is around for a full season – thus adding to the 4% of the team’s total production she had in 14 games last year – Willingham’s scoring might not be needed.
"When we signed Le’Coe to a two-year deal, I felt she would have the opportunity to show her ability and potential," said Meyers-Drysdale. "I’m glad that we were able to put her in a position to show her basketball skills, which is reflected in the demand for her as a free agent."