December 11, 2023
Sights and sounds from the Phoenix Mercury draft lottery watch party
Mercury will select at No. 3 overall in 2024 WNBA Draft
PHOENIX – The Phoenix Mercury entered the 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery with the second-best odds to secure the first pick but ended up with No. 3. This will be the franchise’s first time picking in the top three since 2013 when they drafted Brittney Griner first overall.
The Mercury have picked third once before. In 2005, they selected forward Sandora Irvin out of TCU. She played with the Mercury for two seasons before she was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars in the following season.
“This is a deep draft class and having the third pick will give us multiple options to add talent to our team,” Phoenix general manager Nick U’Ren said in a press release. “We have the most amazing fans who have been so supportive as we continue to build to return to our championship-caliber play, and we look forward to what’s to come on draft night and beyond when we add another talented player to the Mercury.”
The Mercury hosted a 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery watch party at Footprint Center, where players such as Moriah Jefferson, Shey Peddy, and Diana Taurasi interacted with season ticket holders on Sunday. Sophie Cunningham and her dog, Brutus, also surprised fans with an appearance on stage.
A group of fans gathered at a watch party outside Footprint Center, hoping to witness the Mercury secure the first pick in next year’s draft. The fans were entertained by the dancers who performed on stage and got to hear the players interacting with the in-game host.
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New Phoenix Mercury and Suns owner Mat Ishbia, alongside his daughter Jaime, represented the team at the draft lottery in Bristol, Conn. Before the drawing was announced, Mat and Jaime said they hoped the team would have the top pick.
“They’re really excited and we’re excited about us,” Mat said to Andraya Carter of ESPN moments before the top four picks of the 2024 WNBA Draft were revealed. “[Brittney Griner] is a huge part of our success along with Diana [Taurasi], was the number one pick, but we’re (hopeful to get one) again this year. My lucky charm, Jaime, what do you think?”
“I’m really excited. I hope we get the first pick,” Jaime responded to Mat’s question in the live broadcast.
The first team revealed, which will go on to pick fourth, was the Seattle Storm. Anticipation climbed with the announcement which left Phoenix somewhere in the top three. However, their hopes were dashed when the team was revealed next.
U’Ren and Phoenix’s chief operating officer Vince Kozar toasted with champagne at the end of the draft lottery to celebrate the team’s future and conclude the watch party.
“I think it’s human nature,” U’Ren said. “Once they start to reveal the picks, your heart rate starts to go up a little bit. I think our whole organization has done a pretty good job of being quite pragmatic all week. If there was something we could do control it, we absolutely would, but it’s literally it’s math, it’s odds, it’s just ping pong balls. And so I was quite ready for anything to happen today. The odds actually stated that this scenario was the most likely so this is no surprise and we’re excited. We’ll wake up tomorrow and get back to work just like we would have had it been a different result.”
The Phoenix Mercury finished last in the WNBA for the first time since 2003 with a 9-31 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Several changes were made to the front office and coaching staff, including hiring Nate Tibbetts as the next head coach and replacing Jim Pitman with U’Ren as the general manager.
“We won nine games last year, so we’re gonna have to make some changes, but with this deck and being able to add some free agents, I’m really excited about our ability to add some talent to this roster,” U’Ren said. “And I think at this league, you can turn things around relatively quickly and we just want to take one positive step forward next year, and we’ll keep building on that year after year.”
Cunningham was a guest on the Bickley and Marotta show last Thursday. During her appearance, she expressed her hope that the Mercury would secure the first pick and mentioned Caitlin Clark, the standout player from Iowa.
“We deserve it (laughs),” Cunningham said. “We have been on the struggle bus the past couple of years, and it has been awful. … But we have a new GM, a new head coach, and, of course, the new ownership with Mat Ishbia, and there have been changes made over here. So we are feeling good. … Whatever good luck or vibes you have, please send them our way because we would love to get Caitlin Clark on this train.”
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U’Ren went on to detail his scouting process after taking over from Pitman, the long-time general manager who retired at the end of the 2023 season. The team currently has six players under contract for the next season, and Griner is expected to re-sign with the Mercury. Skylar Diggins-Smith is set to enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent after missing the whole season due to maternity leave.
“Our free agency scouting is done throughout the course of the WNBA season,” U’Ren said. “So we do that live. We’ll (watch some of that) film and then obviously, these last few months where we can watch a ton of film and dive into that. … And then for the college draft, we’ll be watching all year. We’ll be traveling in-person, we’ll be visiting with college coaches trying to dig into their character and their personalities as well as watching them in person on film and see how they can win.”
U’Ren, who spent the last eight seasons with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, also mentioned that he would continue to look to Pitman for guidance on his future decisions as general manager for the Mercury.
“I’ve got plenty of friends and mentors in the business,” U’Ren said. “I’ll certainly ask their advice and lean on amongst them, Jim [Pitman], I am so thankful that he’s still with the organization. He’s a great friend. I’m gonna lean on Jim a ton over the next year or two years, however long I’m here, so I’m thankful for him.”
Coaching staff updates
“Her personality, her basketball acumen, the experience she’s had in this league, she’s won championships,” U’Ren said. “She’s been in big moments. We’re thrilled to have her. We’re thrilled she chose to work with us. And I think she’ll be a tremendous asset to our team, our staff, our fanbase.
“We’re making progress for the rest of the staff, nothing new to report there. So we’re excited for what we can build and set it originally when we hired Nate [Tibbetts]; we’ve said a huge reason I’m here is the investment that Mat’s going to put towards the team. I fully trust us to come in next season with a prepared, thorough, and robust staff.”
Written by Aya Abdeen
Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next Hoops since December 2022. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.