May 19, 2023 

How injuries will impact opening day roster for Mercury

Phoenix Mercury could start the 2023 WNBA season with just eight active players

When the Phoenix Mercury season tips off against the Sparks at Arena in Los Angeles on Friday, the team’s roster will be missing key contributors.

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The Mercury announced in their injury report Thursday that four of the team’s 12 players will be out on Friday. As expected, guard Skylar Diggins-Smith is out as she is still away from the team on maternity leave. Guard Shey Peddy, who was hopeful to make a miraculous recovery from an August ruptured Achilles to be ready for the first game of the season, is out. Guard Sophie Cunningham is out after hurting her knee in last Friday’s preseason game with the Sparks.

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The surprising news was a foot injury keeping backup center Megan Gustafson out of the game. She spoke to media members on Wednesday and there was no sign she would be out Friday. Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard met with media members twice on Wednesday and did not indicate an injury to Gustafson.

With eight active players for the season opener in Los Angeles, the Mercury should be able to sign a player to an emergency hardship exception under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, at the time this story was written, the team had yet to sign a player to the emergency hardship exception.

Nygaard did provide updates on Cunningham, Peddy and Diggins-Smith on Wednesday.

Nygaard said Cunningham is “day-to-day” and that the team is “not seeing it as long term.” Nygaard said she did not see Peddy playing on Friday but her return will be “very soon.”

The Diggins-Smith situation is one clouded in mystery at this point. She confirmed to Essence Magazine that her second child has been born but indicated she is in no rush to get back on the court.

Nygaard gave no update Wednesday on if Diggins-Smith will be in a Phoenix uniform this season.

“Skylar’s under contract to the Mercury,” Nygaard said. “And within the WNBA she has great support for her maternity leave. So she’s currently still on leave from our team and we want to honor that leave and respect her and her family. And so our status right now is honoring her maternity leave and she’s still under contract to the Mercury.”

Nygaard also responded to the ESPN report that “Diggins-Smith didn’t get along with, well, anyone on the (Mercury)” last season.

Nygaard was asked about the report and denied it. She said Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment in a Russian prison led to a heightened level of stress within the team.

“I think last year was a stressful situation for everyone within the organization,” Nygaard said. “BG’s absence, now that she’s back, it’s clarifying,” Nygaard said. “… It felt bad to smile. We have great jobs. Professional basketball coach? I mean I wear shorts to work, right? Like this is great. And I think last year with BG’s absence, it created such a level of tension for everybody… A lot of times when you’re angry about something and something’s said, it’s not about that thing. It’s about something else. And I think the BG thing hung over us in a way that wasn’t fair to anybody and no team’s ever had to go through that. And we’re just so joyful that BG’s back. It’s just a miracle.”

As for Griner, she was unable to meet with the media as previously scheduled on Wednesday due to what Nygaard said was “personal reasons” but no indication has been made that she will not play on Friday.

Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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