April 16, 2021
Phoenix Mercury 2021 draft recap
February's trade for Nurse, Walker was Phoenix's big move on Thursday night but completed two months prior
Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited, and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives, and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
It took almost the full two hours for the Phoenix Mercury to get to their lone pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
But while the Mercury took Texas A&M center Ciera Johnson in the third round with the 32nd overall pick, general manager Jim Pitman and coach Sandy Brondello left Thursday feeling content. That all stems from trading this year’s 6th overall pick and next year’s first-rounder to the New York Liberty for guard Kia Nurse and forward Megan Walker.
And after what Pitman called an “unpredictable” draft night, he feels no regrets at all on pulling the trigger on the Feb. 10 trade.
“Absolutely no qualms,” Pitman said. “We are very comfortable with Kia Nurse and Megan Walker. Really thrilled to have those two join our roster. We think they come in right away and make us a better team, and that’s not always the case with a draft pick. We believe, with those two, we’re ready to contend for a championship.”
Pitman hypothesized that had Walker had not forgone her remaining year of collegiate eligibility to enter the 2020 WNBA Draft, she likely would have been “right at the top” of this year’s draft class. Getting her and Nurse together accomplished what Brondello said was a goal of the Mercury’s all offseason.
“At the end of the season last year, we sat down and we worked out, ‘What do we need to do to get us over the line?’ and it was improved shooting. I think Kia Nurse, she’s an All-Star and she looks great.
“And [with] Megan Walker, we haven’t seen the best of her, but that’s someone we coveted in last year’s Draft and she wasn’t available when we chose. So we’re very excited about adding those two players.”
Phoenix’s roster was, arguably, the closest to filled out entering Thursday, with 10 — or maybe even 11 — players seemingly locked into a roster spot already. But there’s at least one spot up-for-grabs during training camp, and both Pitman and Brondello seemed excited to add Johnson to their training camp mix.
“We were pleasantly surprised and pleased to have Ciera Johnson available at the 32nd pick,” Pitman said. “We think that she’s a good, big presence inside, she’s a very good rebounder and finisher.”
Brondello added, “We’re very happy. She’s had a very strong year, and we’ve heard so many great things about her leadership and we’re excited to get her in camp and compete against the other players that we have.”
The 6’4 native of Duncanville, Texas was a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American out of high school who went to Louisville. After playing for the Cardinals for one season, Johnson elected to transfer, heading back to her home state and enrolling at Texas A&M. Once in College Station, Johnson started every single game she suited up for the Aggies, averaging 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in 2020-21.
In addition to Johnson, news broke late Thursday night that Phoenix had signed Syracuse guard Tiana Mangakahia to a training camp contract. The 5’6 guard from Brisbane, Australia will attempt to make the Mercury’s roster led by her country’s national team coach, Brondello.
Mangakahia averaged 11.4 points and 7.3 assists in 20 games for the Orange in 2020-21, her first season back after missing 2019-20 with breast cancer. She’s also been named to Brondello’s Opals preliminary roster for the Olympics this summer.
Both Johnson and Mangakahia will be battling for the final roster spots with forward Sara Blicavs of Australia and Marta Xargay of Spain, both of whom Pitman indicated will arrive in Phoenix in the next few days as they wrap up the visa process.
And while the back-end of the roster battles will be intriguing to see, there’s a reason Phoenix was content to stay at 32 and sign Mangakahia as an undrafted free agent as their only moves on draft night. They felt they did their major work a few months ago.
“We made our moves earlier on during free agency,” Pitman said. “We went and got the people we targeted and we wanted, so we didn’t really have that desire or need to do anything tonight to move up and get a particular player.
“We got the ones that we wanted back in February.”