The Phoenix Mercury were so good in their semifinal series against the Aces last year that they arguably became the favorite entering the Finals. Diana Taurasi was vintage Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner was just as good, giving Phoenix the most dangerous offense in the tournament.
The Mercury have reason to be optimistic about another run at the championship, but Taurasi, Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith eat up a lot of cap space. The Mercury have the top-end talent, but their depth could be called into question if they’re not able to keep Kia Nurse.
By the numbers*
Free agents (type) (2021 average salary)
- Sophie Cunningham (unrestricted) ($58,710)
- Alanna Smith (unrestricted) ($58,710)
- Kia Nurse (restricted) ($70,040)
- Sonja Petrovic (reserved)
Total average salary of free agents: $187,460
Total team salary: $1,062,135
Cap space: $317,065
The Mercury likely won't be able to afford Kia Nurse. If she is offered $136,380, Phoenix can match it and she’d have to stay because she is a restricted free agent. That would give the Mercury a solid core of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner Skylar Diggins-Smith, Bria Hartley and Nurse, but their remaining six players would all have to be at the player minimum. Also, I think Nurse will be offered $140,000 by somebody. She was an All-Star in 2019.
Not worrying about Nurse allows the Mercury to be more sane when putting together their remaining roster. Brianna Turner is obviously much cheaper than she's worth and Phoenix is lucky to have at least one player like that. She’s a keeper. After her, there are no real locks, but the team has to like what Sophie Cunningham did for them in the playoffs.
The Mercury could have kept Turner ($72,141) and Megan Walker ($70,127), who has been waived, and paid Shey Peddy a pretty low amount because she is reserved and won’t receive offers from other teams. Let’s say they paid Peddy $70,000. That would have left $102,607 to pay unrestricted free agent Cunningham, which should have been plenty. If you’re paying Peddy what she really deserves, closer to $82,000, you’d have to hope Cunningham takes a little less ($90,607).
Under this scenario, the Mercury would have been left with enough money to keep their three draft picks as they stand now (one second rounder and two third rounders). They also could have also traded Walker for a pick in the 5 through 8 range. Walker was the No. 9 pick in 2020 and has star offensive potential. She was eighth in the nation with a 3-point percentage of 45.1 as junior at UConn.
Since Walker has been waived, the Mercury could try and still pay Peddy only $70,000 and Cunningham only $90,000. That would leave them with $82,734 to get a free agent. In that range they could be looking at Shavonte Zellous, Lexie Brown or Lindsay Allen. Not much of an upgrade over Walker, but Walker really struggled at what is supposed to be her strength in her first two years, shooting 22 percent from beyond the arc. Maybe Phoenix thinks Brown, who shot 38.5 percent from downtown in 2019, is a better bet.
* All salary numbers come from HerHoopStats