As you might expect, the Mercury were very upbeat and positive when they introduced their new power forward, Candice Dupree to the local media. All the right things were said about missing and appreciating Cappie and welcoming a player of Candice's caliber to the team.
What's most interesting about this trade, aside from how it will impact the game, was that both main players asked out of their current situations. You don't normally see these kinds of demands being honored let alone having everything fall into place so nicely for all involved.
The Mercury brass made no bones about the fact that Cappie wanted out forced their hand.
"We were hoping that Cappie would come back but she made it clear that she was not going to play for us and she wanted to go to New York," explained Ann Meyers-Drysdale just moments into her opening remarks.
Candice, also a restricted free agent, had let the Chicago Sky know that she was ready to move on as well, "The biggest thing was that I want to win right away and win a championship sooner than later...(Phoenix) has won two championships already and going for a third this year."
On her conference call with the media earlier this morning, Cappie told her side of the story. She talked about wanting new opportunities and new challenges with the Liberty but also referenced being a "city girl" and expressed her interest in what New York life can offer outside of basketball.
Early in the process, Coach Gaines who traveled to Russia and partnered with Diana Taurasi to try and convince Cappie to stay in Phoenix said this about Pondexter's motivations, "I've talked to her many times. Cappie is into the fashion. Cappie's into the other stuff off the court and she feels that New York is the spot where she can expand her world."
Gaines said that once he realized that Cappie wasn't coming back, he made a list of players that he wanted which included Lauren Jackson, Sylvia Fowles, Temeka Catchings, Deanna Nolan and Candice Dupree (in no specific order).
He said that while there is no other Cappie, he's not mad about replacing her with Durpee.
A Players' League
How does it feel to be running a team in a league where players are making these kinds of demands?
AMD made it clear that the organization did not take this lightly, "It's tough and we've had a lot of discussions as an organization all the way from our owner Robert Sarver on down. It's not easy. We want to make sure that we didn't do this just because she demanded it per se. We had to make sure that we were in a position that we were continuing to be a championship organization and Candice Dupree does that."
Make no mistake though, this deal was also about the salary cap pressure the Mercury were facing. Asked if the Mercury would be able to resign Temeka Johnson and Penny Taylor if this trade wasn't made, Ann simply replied, "No."
Taylor's and Johnson's contracts are in the works and the top focus for Ann.
The Mercury have three open roster spots going into training camp but don't even have the veteran minimum left to offer.
They will be focused on young players who will likely get cut from other teams along with two previously announced training camp invitees, Ashley Paris and shooter Lenae Williams. Ann also confirmed that Japanese point guard Yuko "Shin" Oga will return to Phoenix to compete for a spot this May.
Bigger. Stronger. Faster?
On the court, Coach Gaines feels like his team will still give opponents three poisons to pick from: Taurasi, Taylor or Dupree. Teams will have to focus somewhere leaving the others open which will continue to make the Mercury extremely difficult to defend.
He stressed that this offensive system was always designed around having a dominant post scorer and now for the first time, the Mercury have that. He expects Dupree to draw double teams in the post while she's surrounded by shooters who can either knock down open looks or drive and create while teams are in rotation.
The line-up he's looking at will feature Tangela Smith at center with Ohlde backing her up and then Dupree at the power forward and Taylor at the small forward. Taurasi and Temeka Johnson will pair up in the back court. With Bonner and Swanier as key reserves that's a powerful top eight that can play a lot of different ways but they won't be nearly as fast...right?
A big part of the Phoenix attack last season was Meek advancing the ball via long pass to Cappie who was able to quickly attack on drags (ad hoc pick and roll) and create for herself or her teammates.
Gaines responded when I asked how he replaces that, "Oh, I will have it. I'll have it. If you haven't seen a player by the name of Penny Taylor of late, she runs drags also. Penny does a little 'big step Ginobili get to the basket'. It's just a different form. It's apples and oranges but they both score baskets. It's just a different way."
You got to love Corey...he will still have the same thing except it will be different. I suppose if the end result is buckets then yes, but a big part of the Mercury system was wearing teams down with their torrid pace. Will that still be possible without Cappie? I am not so sure.
Defensively, Gaines thinks his rover zone will be improved by having a versatile, athletic player like Dupree and her rebounding prowess will certainly help the Mercury while Tangela Smith is on the floor.
I find it fascinating that both Dupree and Pondexter demanded trades. And got them.
The difference of course, between the two players is that one wanted out of situation where she wasn't getting an opportunity to win and compete for a ring and the other was perhaps content with her two championships and was focused on life outside of basketball.
I don't blame Cappie for that. She works hard and NO ONE can question her competitive fire but the Mercury get a player who is hungry to win for the first time and for a team that's reached the top twice in the last three years, that's not a bad thing.
On the court, the Mercury should be a lot better on the glass and equally potent offensively albeit a bit slower and more efficient in the half court. Still, you don't replace Cappie's ability to isolate in late clock or end of games situations. The Mercury simply won't be the same without her in those big moments.
Defensively, while the rover zone might be better than it was, I wonder if Diana and Penny will have the foot speed to match-up on the perimeter against top wing scorers like a Cappie Pondexter.
Teams that are patient and move the ball well can still end up with a mismatch and like all zone defenses, there will be seams that can be exploited. But as we saw last season, with an offense should again lead the league, the defense only needs to be adequate to win it all.
This trade will obviously upset a lot of people in Phoenix but I am good with it.
Cappie is easily the most dynamic individual player in the league and on nights when she was attacking the glass and dishing the ball, is well worth the price of admission. Actually, given the low ticket prices for the WNBA she's worth far more than that. But the Mercury had no choice given the salary cap situation and perhaps Cappie's demands made a really difficult decision just a bit easier.