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2013 WNBA Draft: How the Phoenix Mercury played chess and won

Greg Smith-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Either Corey Gaines is a sly genius or the luckiest man on earth.

I’ll go with the former and I think he would agree -- seeing his mischievous smile after Laurel Richie said "and with the number one pick……" was a sight to behold.

"I could see (from) where I was sitting each time [WNBA president Laurel J. Richie] opened the envelope, and the first one I saw was Washington," Gaines said of his reaction after the lottery. "My first instinct was that I felt sorry because they really needed that pick. Then that went away and I saw the next one, and I saw the order they were going in, and then all of a sudden I realized it - we just got the No. 1 pick.

"It's just got to be lucky."

Phoenix, who arguably has the most talented roster in the WNBA this side of Minnesota, had just done something that many pundits didn’t want to see come to fruition: they just won the WNBA lottery.

But what makes this different than most teams winning the lottery is that they are going to get a franchise player to go with a team that’s loaded with star players: Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree and Dewanna Bonner.

However for the many people that will argue in disdain of what just transpired, you have to pause and just think about the utter brilliance of the Mercury organization. In effect, they made the decision from day one to "tank" the season. And even though "tank" is a loaded word, that’s what essentially what happened. Let’s dissect this step by step.

Step 1: Penny Taylor got hurt with a season ending knee injury. Now this wasn’t part of the Mercury's master scheme but it was something that inevitably was beneficial as one of the best players in the world wouldn’t be available thus limiting Phoenix’s success for the season.

Step 2: Taurasi takes a "break", a long "break". The Mercury’s best player only played 36 minutes for the first half of the season but was coincidentally healthy for the Olympics. She was quoted as saying, "I'm feeling really good, I'll be ready to go, I can't wait to get to D.C. to start playing again." And not only was she healthy, she played very well en route to another gold medal; she led Team USA in scoring with 12.6 points, 43% on three pointers and tied with the team for minutes per game at 24. But as luck would have it right after the Olympics those nagging injuries appeared and the infamous "DNP - coach’s decision" absences started to arrive as well. Gaines addressed that in an article by Mechelle Voepel of ESPNW.

"Yeah, she led the [U.S.] team in scoring, but she didn't look like herself," Gaines said about his view of Taurasi's physical condition during the Olympics. "Some games, she looked really, really bad, to be honest."

Step 3: Candice Dupree came down with an injury and was sidelined for 21 games. Losing Dupree for any extended amount of time was inescapably going to hurt.

Step 4: Coach/GM Corey Gaines. This is the most important step as not only is he the coach, he’s also the man directly responsible for personnel decisions short term and long term. I’ll ask everyone a question: if you were a GM of a team and you had a chance to get Brittney Griner or Elena Delle Donne to put alongside Taurasi, Bonner, Dupree, would you honestly not position yourself for that possibility?

I mean let’s delve deeper into the possibilities: Griner is a 6’8" athletic, game-changing, shot blocking, dunking force that the WNBA has never seen. In Delle Donne, you get a 6’5" forward with guard skills -- she has a jumper about as pure as Dirk Nowitski with the potential to be an even more versatile scorer than Kevin Durant when he entered the league.

Both players would have instantly changed the future for any of the four franchises in the lottery in multiple ways: marketing, ticket sales, and most of all wins. But only one of them that had multiple WNBA titles -- Phoenix.

Kudos to you Coach Gaines, you just pulled a "Queen sacrifice" and got a checkmate.