The Phoenix Mercury had the toughest year. With Brittney Griner being arrested and held in a Russian prison for the entire season, it left a dark cloud over the team, the league and the country. Having such a severe issue at the epicenter of a team’s season meant focusing on basketball and being the best version of themselves was simply impossible for the Mercury.
Sophie Cunningham is quoted as saying the following in an article written by The Dallas Post Tribune:
“This season, I don’t think there’s a sports team that has endured everything that we endured as the Phoenix Mercury, and it’s been completely exhausting.”
Now, with Griner released, back home, and willing to play, Phoenix can move forward and look ahead at the season to come.
By the numbers*
Free agent (type) (2022 salary)
- Reshanda Gray (unrestricted) ($19,999)
- Brittney Griner (unrestricted) ($227,900)
- Kia Nurse (unrestricted) ($73,542)
- Diana Taurasi (unrestricted) ($228,094)
- Sophie Cunningham (restricted) ($75,000)
- Megan Gustafson (restricted) ($72,141)
- Shey Peddy (restricted) ($72,141)
- Sam Thomas (restricted) ($60,471)
Total team salary: $538,850
Cap space: $881,650
With only three players locked up for the 2023 season, Phoenix has many options and plenty of cap space to improve its roster. However, given the first-round exit, I do not believe the Mercury will be a popular destination this offseason, so while I expect movement similar to other teams during the off-season, don’t expect a big change that will turn them into contenders. Instead, I believe there will be a combination of running it back and retooling.
Let’s start with who will likely return. A safe bet is Britney Griner; she essentially agreed to return on her Instagram late last year.
“I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season,” she said. “And in doing so, I look forward to being able to say `thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon.”
Diana Taurasi is another player who has claimed she will return to the Mercury despite being an unrestricted free agent.
40-year-old Diana Taurasi (who is a free agent) says she's coming back for Year 19 in Phoenix.— Nick King (@NickKingSports) November 5, 2022
"You know, I started working out, so, the minute I start working out, that means I'm all in. ... I'm ready to bring another championship here." https://t.co/sHY2BNVx9z pic.twitter.com/7mPWGDyRZ5
So with Griner and Taurasi back, will anyone else return?
I think Sophie Cunningham and Shey Peddy are good candidates to return as well. Cunningham had a career year averaging 12.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in her 29.5 minutes of play. It’s hard to imagine any place that fits her style of play better, and she seemed happy in Phoenix as well. Peddy is just an absolute bucket and had a career year, averaging 9.9 points and 3.4 assists per game. Both Peddy and Cunningham are the kind of role players you need on winning teams. Players who can step up and spark a team during important stretches.
So with those players signed, the Mercury would have around a quarter million left and four to five roster spots left. What could they do with what’s left?
Victoria Vivians is a name I’d keep an eye on. She is restricted and plays for the Fever, but if she moves, I can see Phoenix being a good fit. Phoenix also has two third-round picks to consider. Those rarely pan out, but maybe they take a flyer on a player or package those picks for a better player prior to the draft.
Regardless of whether the Mercury are buyers or sellers, a season where they have Griner safe and sound is going to start off well. Focusing on basketball and not dealing with the emotional strain of such a difficult situation might be enough to leapfrog the Mercury from a borderline playoff team to title contenders. Before you scoff at that hypothesis, remember that Phoenix made it all the way to the WNBA Finals in 2021, the last season Griner played. Why can’t they capture some of that magic and make a final run with Griner, Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith?
*All salary numbers come from Her Hoop Stats