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(Updated) 2021 WNBA Free Agency: Phoenix Mercury get two capable 3-point shooters in Kia Nurse and Megan Walker

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Though both struggled last year, both Kia Nurse and Megan Walker could help the Phoenix Mercury with their 3-point shooting woes from last year.

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty
Kia Nurse skies for a layup.
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Phoenix Mercury traded away the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft and a 2022 first round pick to the New York Liberty in exchange for Kia Nurse and Megan Walker. Yvonne Turner was then traded from the Mercury to the Atlanta Dream in exchange for a third round pick in 2022 on Saturday.

The Phoenix Mercury also announced on Feb. 5 the re-signing of Kia Vaughn, a veteran center who has been a solid WNBA player for a long time, including last year when she averaged 6.1 points and 18.9 minutes per game.

In addition, the Mercury re-signed Diana Taurasi to a supermax ($221,450) contract for two years. The GOAT is looking like she may finish her career having played for only one team.

The Mercury made one of the biggest offseason acquisitions last season when they brought Skylar Diggins-Smith to the desert in a sign-and-trade deal. But with Brittney Griner (personal reasons) departing the IMG Academy bubble early, the Mercury never got to see the big three of Diggins-Smith, Griner and Diana Taurasi together when it mattered most.

A Shey Peddy buzzer-beater sent Phoenix to the second round of the playoffs, but failing to make the semifinals thereafter brought a disappointing end to the season for a team striving to win a championship in the waning years of Taurasi’s career.

As for their needs in this year’s free agency, the Mercury filled a 3-point shooting need by picking up Nurse and Walker. Though both struggled last year, Nurse shot 35.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2019 and Walker shot 45.1 percent as a junior at UConn in 2019-20. Phoenix was eighth in the WNBA in 3-point shooting percentage in 2020.


By the numbers*

Free agents (type) (average salary) (new salary)

  • Diana Taurasi (unrestricted) ($116,500) ($221,450)
  • Jessica Breland (unrestricted) ($115,000)
  • Kia Vaughn (unrestricted) ($110,000) ($110,000)
  • Nia Coffey (restricted) ($68,000)
  • Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (restricted) ($52,656)
  • Yvonne Turner (suspended-contract expired) ($49,483)
  • Marta Xargay (reserved)
  • Sonja Petrovic (reserved)

Team figures

Total team salary: $1,274,821

Cap space: $64,179

Analysis

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty
Megan Walker (standing) was a great all-around offensive talent in college.
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Taurasi was expected to re-sign with Phoenix, but it is a bit surprising to see her signed to a supermax deal. She is the GOAT and deserves a chance to end her career with the Mercury, but the team has to think about the future as well.

However, her play in 2020 did merit superstar money.

Taurasi showed a ton of improvement health-wise after contributing very little in the six games she played in 2019. In 2020, she was her usual unabashed 3-pointing-shooting and foul-drawing self and even entered into MVP discussions at one point.

With the additions of Nurse and Walker, the Mercury now have 10 players under contract and Sophie Cunningham and Alanna Smith are the only ones who seem cuttable, assuming the team wants to hold on to Walker, whom it just traded for.

But here’s what we previously reported about Cunningham and Smith looking promising as well:

Phoenix already made its big move last year — bringing in Diggins-Smith who, along with Griner, is receiving the supermax ($221,450). After Taurasi, Bria Hartley is the team’s fourth guaranteed contract and she’s receiving the max ($190,550).

After those four, it’s the trio of youngsters who are on unprotected contracts:

Brianna Turner

Sophie Cunningham

Alanna Smith

B. Turner started every game for Phoenix last year and was close to averaging double-digit points (7.2) and rebounds (9.0). She is clearly on her way to becoming a star, while Cunningham and Smith each improved and showed legitimate promise. Phoenix is lucky that it has three talented and inexpensive young players around.

The Mercury can still afford someone a little more expensive than Peddy for their 11th roster spot if they want, but as things stand right now it doesn’t look like they can keep a 12th player. The large amount of money they’ve spent on Taurasi, Griner, Diggins-Smith and Hartley has left them with not much left over despite everyone else being pretty inexpensive.

We previously reported:

Jessica Breland and Kia Vaughn are aging unrestricted free agents. They have both been solid frontcourt players throughout their careers and Vaughn’s mid-range shot provided a scoring spark at times for Phoenix in 2020. Breland, on the other hand, missed out on what would have been her first year with the Mercury due to medical exemption.

The only Mercury player who could be in for a pay raise, therefore, is Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Her average salary is only $52,656 and she played better than Nia Coffey ($68,000) in 2020. If Griner isn’t traded, Coffey is the most likely to go, unless it’s going to be a big pay raise for Walker-Kimbrough, a restricted free agent, whose salary the Mercury can match according to the offers she gets from other teams. In this scenario, Phoenix would have to get rid of Breland or Vaughn.

If the Mercury cut Peddy and keep Taurasi, Breland, Vaughn, Walker-Kimbrough, Coffey and the No. 6 pick with no pay raises for anyone, it would put them $709 below the salary cap. That means they could keep Peddy ($58,710) or Yvonne Turner ($49,483) instead of Coffey and pay Walker-Kimbrough the difference between Peddy’s and Coffey’s salaries ($9,290) — or the difference between Y. Turner’s and Coffey’s salaries ($18,517).

The Mercury could keep Marta Xargay or Sonja Petrovic, too, instead of Peddy or Y. Turner, as long as their salaries are going to be lower than Coffey’s.

Walker-Kimbrough and Coffey were both high draft picks with a lot of room to grow, while Breland and Vaughn still have a lot to give.


This story has been updated to include information on Diana Taurasi and Kia Vaughn re-signing with the Mercury, the acquisitions of Kia Nurse and Megan Walker and the departure of Yvonne Turner.

*All WNBA salary information courtesy of Her Hoop Stats and Spotrac and is current as of Feb. 12, 2021.