Tina Charles’ goal in free agency could not have been more clear-cut: she wanted to put herself in the best possible position to win a championship. She didn’t settle for the second- or third-best position in the league; she went straight to the team that lit up the mighty Las Vegas for 117 points in Game 2 of last year's semifinals. The team that seemed the most intimidating by the end of the 2021 season despite coming up just short of a championship. The team that had just added Diamond DeShields to its big three of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
Yes. Charles is headed to the Phoenix Mercury in pursuit of her first WNBA championship. She is considered to be the greatest player in league history without one.
Charles, who is still worth the supermax at age 33, took a pay cut down to $175,000 with the Washington Mystics last year and went all the way down to $108,000 for this season with Phoenix, making her the most underpaid player in the league. The supermax is $228,094 this year.
She took the pay cut so that the Mercury could also add DeShields, a 26-year-old star who could be worth more than her $150,000 salary despite playing a lesser role for the Chicago Sky in 2021 than she did in her All-Star season of 2019. She dealt with injuries in 2020 and left the wubble early for personal reasons. Phoenix has added two stars at convenient prices and has the entire women’s basketball world talking right now.
Swish Appeal’s Top 30 WNBA players list entering 2021 had Griner at No. 5, Charles at No. 10, Diggins-Smith at No. 13, Taurasi at No. 14 and DeShields at No. 24.
Here’s what I said about DeShields:
DeShields struggled with a nagging knee injury and a quad injury in the Bradenton bubble. She wowed us with her versatile scoring and explosive play in 2019 when she averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 rebounds as a 6-foot-1 guard, so it was disappointing to see her at less than 100 percent. She is still a rising star and, if she can get back on track in 2021, could be among the top players in the league. She’s got some competition out there, though, with players like Arike Ogunbowale and Jewell Loyd also able to get out in transition with stellar speed and finish with sick moves at the basket. Can DeShields find a way to stand out and be a third superstar for Chicago behind Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot?
Here’s what I said about Charles:
Charles was last seen averaging 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the New York Liberty in 2019. That’s the second-lowest scoring average and second-lowest rebounding average of her career. Now she’s 32 years old and has to dust off the rust after missing 2020 due to an opt out. However, Charles is one of the most talented players in the league and should still be a highly productive frontcourt player. It wouldn’t be surprising if the positive vibes of a fresh start in D.C. actually raise her numbers from 2019. She is a former MVP, a seven-time All-Star and an eight-time All-WNBA selection.
Griner, Charles and Diggins-Smith all outdid their status on our list during the 2021 regular season. Griner finished second in MVP voting, Charles finished fifth, and Diggins-Smith finished seventh. Charles even led the league in scoring and would have finished higher in the MVP voting in Washington had been more successful as a team.
Taurasi played just half the regular season due to various injuries, but she too out-performed her ranking, doing so in the postseason.
If all four players play like they did last year, Phoenix will have four Top 10 players and could have a fifth in the Top 20 or 30 in DeShields.
If the Mercury keep Brianna Turner, Sophie Cunningham, Shey Peddy and two players at the minimum, they can afford to pay Kia Nurse $97,082, which may not be enough to retain her. Nurse was the team’s fourth-leading scorer last year with 9.5 points per game, but DeShields is an upgrade.
Turner has a lot of talent for a team’s sixth-best player. She’s not a scorer, but her rebounding and defense are invaluable. The rest of Phoenix’s bench doesn't wow you, but Cunningham and Peddy have proven they can get the job done in big games and the strength of the team is inevitably going to be it’s top-end talent.