January 13, 2024
2024 WNBA free agency preview: Phoenix Mercury
With plenty of cap space, the Mercury are looking for a star scorer and a younger supporting cast.
With a 9–31 record in 2023 and no playoff appearance for the first time since 2012, the Phoenix Mercury have some serious work to do in free agency this offseason.
Youth, consistent offense and depth are areas in which the team desperately needs to improve. Phoenix could also use a splashy superstar signing to pair with Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. Griner is probably a No. 2 option at this point in her career while Taurasi is probably a No. 3 option. Both players are still capable of having monster nights, but not as regularly as when they were at the peak of their powers.
The good news for the Phoenix Mercury is that they have a plethora of cap space. Skylar Diggins-Smith, who spent the entire 2023 season on maternity leave, is no longer under contract. This opens up $234,350 for the team. Other than Taurasi, who will make $234,936 this year, the four players currently under contract for 2024 are all on reasonable deals. Sophie Cunningham will make $154,500, Moriah Jefferson will make $141,500, Brianna Turner will make $150,000, Michaela Onyenwere will make $85,600 and Kadi Sissoko will make $63,532, per Her Hoop Stats.
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With just six players currently signed for 2024, Phoenix has $633,042 to give out to five or six players. One of those will most certainly be Griner, who previously stated she has no interest in playing elsewhere. The only question then becomes how much she will re-sign for. Though she is eligible for the $241,984 super maximum contract, she was also eligible last year and ended up signing for a team-friendly $165,100.
The Mercury will have an easy path to bring back guard Sug Sutton, a surprise standout off the bench for the team in 2024. She will be a reserved player — pending a one-year qualifying offer from Phoenix for the league minimum — which means Phoenix will be the sole team allowed to negotiate with Sutton. She can negotiate with the Mercury for a larger contract than the qualifying offer, but most reserved players end up signing it as-is.
Phoenix will also pick third in the draft, which (barring a trade) guarantees they will be spending $76,535 on their pick. With Sutton likely back, and assuming Griner and the draft pick will be in the mix, the Mercury really have two or three slots for new free-agents.
The biggest area of need is a consistent No. 1, go-to option. Considering the public falling out between Diggins-Smith and the Phoenix Mercury, it’s extremely unlikely that she will return to the team. After finishing second to the Las Vegas Aces last season, Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones are primed to stay in New York. With a 27–13 regular season record and a berth in the WNBA semifinals, Connecticut Sun free agents DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones have no reason not to re-sign.
Elena Delle Donne would be an interesting choice for the Mercury to pursue given Phoenix’s injury struggles last season and Delle Donne’s injury history. Two league sources told The Next that Delle Donne is not expected to be back in Washington, opening the door for the Mercury to make an offer. Nneka Ogwumike has never played with anyone other than the Los Angeles Sparks, so seeing her in a different uniform would be odd.
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Depth is another area the Mercury could use some help. Sutton and Jefferson can cover point guard responsibilities, while Cunningham and Onyenwere work the floor at small forward. This leaves backup center, scoring guard (to backup Taurasi) and power forward as key needs.
At guard and center, the Mercury could go with familiar faces: Megan Gustafson did a great job of backing up Griner last season offensively, but her defense was not strong. Additionally, Gustafson will likely command more than the veteran minimum she made last season, so the juice may not be worth the squeeze. As for scoring guards, the team could go with Shey Peddy, but at 35 years old, she has dealt with multiple injuries the past two seasons, including a ruptured Achilles. Finally, at power forward, they need someone who can reliably score. While Brianna Turner is a great rebounder, she has struggled offensively, averaging just 3.5 points across 40 games played, at a clip of 26.3 minutes per game.
The realistic free-agent scoring guards the Phoenix Mercury could sign include Aerial Powers, Courtney Williams, Layshia Clarendon and Karlie Samuelson. At power forward, a reunion with Alanna Smith or bringing in Chiney Ogwumike could add an offensive boost to the position. Finally, at center, Nia Coffey or Kiah Stokes would be solid fits. Coffey had over a defensive win share and averaged over a block per game last season for Atlanta. Stokes had over a defensive win share and averaged a bock per game last season for the champion Las Vegas Aves. Coffey was close to five rebounds per game while Stokes was close to six. With Griner’s defense and rebounding not being quite where it used to be, Coffey or Stokes could make up in the areas Griner is not where she once was.
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That said, Phoenix should have plenty of resources to spend on these free agents. Cunningham and Jefferson will have their salaries increase by about $4,000 in 2024, and if Griner’s salary increases by a similar amount, it will be about $169,100. Add in Sutton hypothetically signing for the $64,154 minimum that comes with a reserve qualifying offer and the first-round draft pick making the opening day roster, the Mercury will have $399,788 left to spend on two or three free agents.
As for how the Mercury approach free agency, general manager Nick U’Ren told the media after the team’s draft lottery event in December.
“Free agency scouting is done throughout the course of the WNBA season,” U’Ren said. “So we do that live. We’ll do that some on film. And then, obviously, we’ve got these last few months where we can watch a ton of film and dive into that since those players aren’t playing. We watch overseas film as well.”
The Phoenix Mercury can begin negotiating with free agents on Jan. 21 and start signing players on Feb. 1.
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.