Today is "Bring a Player Back Day" around the SB Nation-NBA network (click here for a description of what sites were asked to write about). The following is a look at options for the Phoenix Mercury.
Looking back over the Phoenix Mercury's history, quite a few names stuck out in my mind to bring back to the current Mercury roster. I became a Merc fan with the drafting of Diana Taurasi (obviously) and looking at the team's prior, there really weren't many options that I found feasible. Now don't get me wrong, there were some great players that played for the Mercury prior that were quite talented in their primes (Jennifer Gillom, Bridget Pettis, Adrian Williams-Strong) but I settled in on one player that I think fits the mold of this current Mercury squad and what they're missing. But before we get there, here's a few options that I considered before making my decision.
10. Plenette Pierson- I have always liked Pierson's game and coming off the bench bringing an offensive spark, rebound and toughness behind Dupree and allowing Bonner to stay on the perimeter, PP would be a great fit on this team but I place her at 10 simply because it's the least likely of the names I came up with.
9. Temeka Johnson- I wasn't happy with the handling of the situation with Meek, seeing how we got nothing in return. She's a great point guard and she's killed the Mercury every time we've faced the Storm this season. She wasn't happy about leaving but the circumstances called for it. I place her at 9 due to her size and one of the huge parts of our success this season has been the size we put on the floor with Dee at the point.
8. Tangela Smith- Tan has and always will be a fan favorite for her toughness and willing to battle against bigger posts in the paint and ability to knock down the trail three. Her contributions were huge during our championship runs in 2007 and 2009. Tan would be a good fit with this team but getting her consistent quality minutes would be tough.
7. Kara Braxton- KB was another player that was coming into her own in a Mercury uniform. Extenuating circumstances led to her suspension and subsequent trade and for the sake of team chemistry and keeping the focus on basketball, it had to happen. But I was truly exciting when we were able to pick her up and it became apparent that she was working harder than she had in years prior.
6. Le'Coe Willingham- Everybody knows I love Le'Coe. She's my type of post player. Efficient and strong with her moves and can hurt the defense if they leave her open from three. Since she's left Phoenix, she's played more roles and hasn't been featured as a scorer so people forget some of the big baskets she scored for us but Le'Coe could still be in Phoenix and holding down the fort at the four when Pree needs a breather...
5. Kamila Vodichkova- One of my favorite all-time players. Gritty, strong and a quality finisher that could knock down the midrange jumper. She came to the Mercury after winning a championship with the Storm in 2004 and played really well for the team before getting pregnant with her first child in 2006 and hasn't returned to the league since. I always wondered "what if?"
4. Kelly Mazzante- Another fan favorite. Mazzante's story is one that still grinds me gears to this day. She was included in a trade for numbers reasons with to appease a certain former Mercury player's request for trade. Mazzante had torn her ACL in the offseason as well so it made the trade a bit easier to swallow for the Merc, but Mazz would be a great fit on this current team before the one area offensively that we don't get consistency in the three point line. Mazz was also underrated ball-handler and defender. She spent a short time with Atlanta during the 2011 season but hasn't been back since.
3. Alexis Gray-Lawson- All bias aside, well maybe not all, AGL is STILL a fan favorite and was short changed by former GM Corey Gaines after suffering an ankle injury late in the 2012 season. A strong ball-handler with a scorer's mentality, Gray-Lawson provided some overlooked defense when she got the minutes. In particular, a game against San Antonio sticks out in my mind. Becky Hammon had been having her way with Hornbuckle and Charde Houston but with AGL on her, Hammon was relatively quiet and the Merc were able to make a run. I've got a gut feeling that she'll be back in the league next season at full strength after suffering a shoulder injury in Seattle's camp this summer.
2. Maria Stepanova- The 6'8 center before the current one, Stepanova has struggled with injuries over the course of her career. Some of the earlier post players I mentioned, I placed lower on the list due to the need to keep Griner/Dupree on the floor to be successful. Not only would it allow Stepanova to be go harder due to playing closer to 18-22 minutes a game, the strength and leadership she's shown over the years, could be quite beneficial for Griner to deal with in practice each day. Krystal Thomas is improving, but she's still young and relatively ineffective in her minutes. Stepanova's presence off the actual game floor could make a huge difference.
Now before, we attack number one, I'm sure everybody had already assumed who the number one player I would bring back would be: Cappie Pondexter. But in writing this piece, I went back and forth and decided that I would keep this list to players that would actually want to be in Phoenix. It kept Pondexter off this list and almost did the same for Plenette Pierson. Every other player on this list, left Phoenix for reason outside of not wanting to play in Phoenix. Some left for injury reasons, some looking for additional playing time after changes were made to the Mercury roster. Pondexter basically said she didn't want to be in Phoenix anymore. She had won her two championships and hasn't come close since but she got where she wanted to be. So without further ado, the player I would bring back to the current Phoenix Mercury roster in their prime is the best player to ever play in the WNBA from the University of Nebraska, a 5'10 guard
1. ANNA LOUISE DEFORGE
Deforge, the first Nebraska player to ever earn a roster spot in the WNBA, was Diana Taurasi's first sidekick. The year before Taurasi was drafted, Deforge led the Mercury in scoring with 11.9 points per game and once her running buddy was drafted, she jumped to 10th in the WNBA in the 2004 season with 14.4 points per game. Deforge also added 3.6 boards, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals while leading the league in minutes and three pointers made. Deforge was traded in what turned out to be a salary dump that brought in Kelly Miller prior tot he 2006 season but I still believe that had we kept Deforge the team would've been a lot better. Deforge last played for the Lynx in the WNBA in 2008 and was still playing overseas last season. Deforge could provide a major boost off the bench if the Mercury were to keep a starting lineup of DT, Penny, DB, Dupree and Griner or she could take over the ballhandling duties and allow Taurasi to slide back to the 2 while putting another shooter and defender beside her. This would make it a lot easier to have a player like Briana Gilbreath on the floor because I think going forward it's going to be impossible to keep both Hornbuckle and Gilbreath unless one becomes a more consistent offensive threat.
So there you have it! I thought long and hard about this player and with the current coaching staff and group of players, I think Deforge would be a great fit. Obviously Cappie is an all-star and Olympian but all the talent in the world can't override the fact that she wanted out of Phoenix.. Feel free to comment your thoughts below!