With the signing period for free agency beginning, the WNBA released some shocking news that is sure to have a major impact on the 2015 playoff race: Diana Taurasi will miss the 2015 season.
Update at 5:25 p.m. ET:
According to the team's press release, Taurasi has an option with UMMC Ekaterinburg where she would be paid to rest, by her Russian team. Given that she intends to play in the WNBA for the 2016 season and the Olympics, she has decided to elect that option.
Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman said:
An athlete’s career is finite, and we support any choice Diana makes in the best interest of her longterm health and which has the potential to prolong her career. We know how much Diana cares about the Mercury organization, team and fans. While we do not underestimate her value to our team, we remain committed to our organization’s stated mission to win championships and create sustained success. We return the league’s best coach and the best core of players in the WNBA, we will work to improve the roster around them, and we will settle for nothing less than defending our title.
Head Coach Sandy Brondello added:
We understand Diana's choice not to play this season, a decision that undoubtedly will extend her career and will benefit the Mercury in the future. Obviously it is hard to replace someone of her caliber, but we are confident in our other key personnel on our roster continuing their development and rising to the challenge. Jim Pitman and I are actively pursuing quality free agents that will complement our players and greatly assist us in our quest to defend our title in 2015.
Last, but not least, Taurasi said:
This was a decision I felt was in my best interest, both now and for the future. I look forward to being back on the court in front of the best fans in the WNBA in 2016.
I am not particularly surprised that something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. European women's basketball teams often pay WNBA superstars much more than their WNBA salaries. It also shows that the WNBA's way of paying players is just not going to work long term because I don't see Taurasi being the last WNBA superstar to sit out a year because of her European team.
For more reading, ESPN's Kate Fagan has a column on the same topic. We did as well from before the 2013 season.