Last season at the Phoenix Mercury Media Day the questions were all about getting back to the playoffs. Coming off a disappointing season where the team failed to defend their 2007 championship there was a determination that was palpable in the air.
At yesterday's 2010 Mercury Media Day, the mood was much (much) lighter. Plenty of smiles all around. Players were taking pictures of each other and the tone was set from the top with Coach Gaines and Diana Taurasi joking and having a great time.
Is this loose and fun attitude, which stands in juxtaposition to last pre-season's focus, a sign of complacency coming off a championship season? Probably not.
More likely this is just a group of happy, fun-loving people enjoying the day and sharing their excitement for the new season. In the end what this observer thinks after an hour's time doesn't matter at all. We will find out if the hunger to repeat burns in the Mercury bellies when the real games get underway next week but I will go ahead and put my money on Diana Tuarasi's competitive desire.
"We can't just sit on what we've done in the past. Once we get our rings on Saturday that's kind of the end of that," Taurasi said.
One player wouldn't confirm the notion that the locker room will be more relaxed this season without Cappie Pondexter's unique brand of intensity but she did comment on how well everyone is getting along and how quickly Candice Dupree's dry humor is fitting in.
As for Cappie's departure, Diana said it hurt to lose her but you've got to move on and she did allow that the team could be better now in an "addition by subtraction" type way. She seems very impressed with Dupree.
For coach Gaines the focus for improvement this season will be rebounding and defense the point of which is to generate more shot attempts for his high-powered offense. The Mercury were an average field goal defensive unit last season but struggled overall with their defensive efficiency because of the poor rebounding.
Gaines explained where that improvement will come from, "I was shocked. Dupree is a big time defensive player. Her foot work, the way she helps, the way she talks and the way she goes and gets the rebound. She can be at the free throw line but she'll still attack the ball when the shot's taken. Instead of turning and looking she goes and gets it."
- Penny Taylor is still playing for her Turkish team. She's expected in Phoenix before the home opener against the Sparks on the 15th but there's no guarantees she will arrive on time due to air travel issues in Europe or other unforeseen problems
- Nicole Ohlde has a lingering hamstring issue that she initially injured in Hungry. She tried to play through it in the playoffs there but it got worse so she sat out the finals. She's not at all thrilled to be arriving in camp with an injury again this season but feels like she's close to recovery. She will begin full sprints this week
- Taurasi said she was healthy after a long season in Russia but hinted at some kind of lingering issue, "I'm always up for playing basketball. I've got nothing else to do...You know it's funny, I've got some little things that happened when I was overseas and when you're over there they just say, 'you're fine' and you get home and you're like, 'I was playing with that?' but I'll just keep playing with it." Whatever "it" is, I doubt it will slow her down in the slightest. Taurasi plays through pain as well as any athlete anywhere
- Taurasi, a long time LA Lakers fan, was very diplomatic when asked about a potential Suns/Lakers playoff match-up. She talked about the great chemistry the Suns have and how well they play together. "They're really fun to watch. They're a team you want to root for no matter what." Pressed for a prediction, Taurasi said, "Don't quote me but Suns in six."
- DeWanna Bonner to me seems poised to take her game to another level. She said she's worked on her guard skills and thinks the experience playing overseas will help her see the game better. Gaines has asked her to take on a bigger scoring role this season and be more aggressive. "Now I don't have to think so much, now I can play." Gaines wouldn't say what the rotations look like but Bonner expects to come off the bench behind Taurasi and Taylor as two/three. Her versatility and talent should be showcased this season and might be the most exciting part of the season for those of us who enjoy seeing young players develop
- Another young player getting a lot of buzz is Ketia Swanier. Several people with the team commented on her development and how impressive she's looked in practice. She could also play a big role backing up Temeka Johnson at point but is also capable of playing the two and could be a defensive addition to the lineup in certain match-up situations
- Tangela Smith said she's in good shape and looking forward to playing out the last season of her contract. She needs 30 games to take the lead for the most games played by any player in the WNBA but she's trying not to think about that. She's not ready to say if she will retire after this season. In the mean time, she expects to get a lot of open three's again this season as teams struggle to deal with Dupree, Taylor and Taurasi at the same time