January 16, 2021 

Phoenix Mercury free agency starts and ends with Diana Taurasi

The Mercury have five players who are entering free agency

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Enjoy our team-by-team free agency previews!

New York Liberty

Washington Mystics

Chicago Sky

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Indiana Fever

Las Vegas Aces

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Minnesota Lynx

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Dallas Wings

Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury high-fives teammates during the WNBA playoffs on September 17, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

The Phoenix Mercury were big movers in the free agency market last year. Their biggest acquisition came via a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Wings for Skylar Diggins-Smith. Their biggest loss was DeWanna Bonner, also via the sign-and-trade. This year the stakes are arguably even higher because they’re about Diana Taurasi.

The Mercury have five players who are entering free agency. But, make no mistake, four of them are secondary when it comes to deciding next steps.

Taurasi has been the motor that drives the Mercury for years. What she hasn’t been is the highest paid player on her own team. It’s difficult to see her getting that title this season, either. Phoenix just has too much committed elsewhere.

With the sign-and-trade for Diggins-Smith, the guard was eligible for the biggest payday available. The Mercury also gave a super maximum deal to center Brittney Griner after they placed the core player designation on her.

Approximately one-third of the available cap space went to the tandem of Diggins-Smith and Griner. That will still be the case this season.

General manager Jim Pitman also made a large commitment—both in dollars and years—to guard Bria Hartley. While that deal was widely panned at the time, it seemed to pay off until Hartley got injured.

The team has already committed $809,580 plus a $58,710 training camp deal to Shey Peddy. With just under $530,000 left, how much can the Mercury afford to commit to their leader and still be able to field a team with any sort of depth?

That question largely depends on what happens with Griner. When the center signed her huge deal last season, it looked like things were going to be set for her and Phoenix for years to come. Then came the season in the WNBA bubble.

Griner would eventually leave the team before the season was over for what the Mercury called “personal reasons.”

The truth behind her departure were never revealed, but nagging questions about the relationship between Griner, her teammates and the Mercury organization remained. Is Griner still part of the longterm plans in Phoenix, especially with the emergence of Brianna Turner? Just as importantly, does she want to be?

Trading Griner would open up a lot money to give Taurasi a good payday this year and provide cap relief in the future. Despite the cost and the rumors, there would surely be a line of suitors for the services of one of the best centers to play the game.

The Mercury could also opt to go with the same plan they followed last year: forego depth in order to give their veterans bigger contracts.

Phoenix also needs to decide what to do about their other two unrestricted free agents: Kia Vaughn and Jessica Breland. Vaughn, especially, played a solid role for the Mercury, especially after the departure of Griner. How hard will the team pursue her?

In the team’s two playoff games, Vaughn averaged 11.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game. It was the best playoff performance of her career in terms of scoring and minutes played. Breland opted out of the season due to COVID-19 threats.

The Mercury has two restricted free agents, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Nia Coffey.

Written by Kim Doss

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