June 26, 2023 

Locked on Women’s Basketball: Hot seat shake-up in Phoenix

Missy and Jesse discuss the coaching change in Phoenix, interim head coach Nikki Blue —WNBA All-Star starter list

It’s time for another Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast episode. Slow starts in professional sports usually mean a change is coming and happened over the weekend with the Phoenix Mercury. Head Coach Vanessa Nygaard was fired as the team is off to just a 2-10 start. Analyst Missy Heidrick breaks down the move, what happens next and some good news all around with the WNBA All-Star starter list announced as well with The Next Phoenix Mercury beat writer Jesse Morrison.

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Jesse talks about the coaching change in Phoenix and his first impression on the move:

“Well, I mean, Sunday morning was a little odd to me just because it’s a weekend day. But I was not surprised that it happened at all. They are 2-10 worst start since the year before Diana Taurasi got there. In Phoenix, you have come to expect great basketball from the Phoenix Mercury. They were in the finals two years ago. They’ve been a perennial power. I mean, fans here support this team, like, up there with the Seattle Storm for the best fan base in the WNBA. And they have high expectations. And, when you have Brittney Griner. I know she’s 41 years old when you have Diana Taurasi, when you have Sophie Cunningham, when you make a move in the offseason for Moriah Jefferson, you’re expected to be better than 2-10 and you’re expected to be better than the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx and teams that may from the outside appear like they’re tanking for a Caitlin Clark or Paige Bueckers.

So they should not be worse. They should not be this bad and they have had injuries. That’s what you’ve seen is just them not improving on the things they’ve been struggling with. Turnovers, rebounding, when you have Brittney Griner, you should be up there in rebounding and when you have Brianna Turner, who is a really good rebounder in her own right? You should not be struggling, rebounding, the basketball, and defensively; they’ve just been struggling big time.”

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Jesse talks about what happens next for the Phoenix Mercury and what to expect from interim head coach Nikki Blue:

“Well, I think Nikki Blue was a great choice. So I’ve covered Arizona State Women’s basketball for the last four or five years. And she was an assistant coach under Charli Turner Thorne. Many people thought she would become the head coach after Charli retired. I know that she is a very calm and collected person. That is something that I’ve had picked up from her. I wrote a story on her. She got a great story. You know, she is an extremely selfless person, if you know about her, and I think that she is just really excited about this opportunity, and it’s something that she talked about today. And so you know, I have not seen her as a head coach, so I don’t know how she’ll be as a head coach, but from what the players talked about or Griner talked about today. Brittney Griner said today there’s a new energy around the team and everything with Nikki Blue at the helm.

And I think that she’s got some, maybe some better mentors than Vanessa Nygaard did. Nikki Blue is best friends with Noelle Quinn of the Seattle Storm. Charli Turner Thorne obviously had so many great years at Arizona State. So I think that she might just slide in and be a little bit more of like a steady voice than Nygaard was. And then, the BG stuff is calming down as far as they’ve gone to a lot of the cities now. And I think that it’s going to be more of she’s set up in a better position at this point because there’s going to be fewer distractions.

I mean, I did ask about the Skylar Diggins-Smith situation. And I got a lot of the same answers, which was just like, she’s on maternity leave. And so, I do not see her playing for the team this year. And I don’t really think that’s much of a distraction at this point. I think that it’s kind of just like she’s not playing, and we’re fine with that. And we’re gonna roll with what we have. But yeah, there’s only 12 games in the season. So with the players that they have and the fact that they made the playoffs with a worse roster last year. You know, there’s time to turn this around. And again, I haven’t seen Nikki as a head coach, but I know her as an assistant coach. And I know that she’s well-liked. And I just know that she’s a good leader. So I think that’s going to bode well for this team moving forward for the rest of the season, at least. And I hope she’s considered for the permanent head coaching job if she does a good job.”

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