March 12, 2023
Cunningham cites Phoenix fans as reason she chose to return to Mercury
Sophie Cunningham is back with the Phoenix Mercury on two-year deal despite being open to going somewhere else.
Sophie Cunningham is not against leaving the Phoenix Mercury.
The Mercury guard, who recently re-signed with Phoenix on a two-year deal that will see her make $150,000 the first year and $154,500 the second year, said so a Zoom availability Friday as she spoke to media members for the first time since re-signing.
It was reported this offseason that Cunningham did have conversations with the Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings and Connecticut Sun. However, it would have been odd for Phoenix not to match the offer sheet of any of these teams based on her career-high 12.6 points per game in 2022 and the multiple social media posts about the guard on Mercury social channels this offseason.
Cunningham discussed why she chose to re-sign with the team, referencing the Phoenix fans.
“I’m not opposed to going to other teams,” Cunningham said. “And for me, I had a solid year but like I said, I want to build on it. I just think the fanbase – this is my home away from home,” Cunningham said. “I love the people out here. Playing at the Footprint Center in front of the X-factor is hands down one of the best crowds that you can ever play in front of at the professional level. They’re rowdy. They’re amazing. When you get to play with Diana (Taurasi), when you have BG (Brittney Griner) back and you have Shey Peddy. Like I said, we have a lot of new faces around here in the coaching staff and the front office and the ownership and just to be a part of it and just to keep moving forward, I want to be a part of it.”
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The million-dollar question surrounding the 2023 Mercury is what will happen with guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. The six-time all-star who has one more year remaining on her Phoenix deal is pregnant and did not finish the 2022 season with the team due to personal reasons.
Cunningham was not able to provide an update on Diggins-Smith’s 2023 status. Cunningham said she has not spoken much to Diggins-Smith in the offseason and just hopes the pregnancy goes smoothly.
Despite the Diggins-Smith situation still being up in the air, Cunningham spoke on the morale of the team being higher than it has been in a while.
“You get BG back but you have to give her grace,” Cunningham said. “She hasn’t played in a year. And so for us, we’re just happy she’s back. We want to love on her. But we just want her to enjoy it. Again, she’s still dominating when she’s out here. She’s one of the best bigs still in the world. But she hasn’t played in a year so you have to give her some grace. Diana … she’s still the G.O.A.T. And I just think trying to surround us with younger players who are quick, who can handle the ball. A lot of people that we’re bringing in can shoot the ball to try to space us out so BG can go to work. So I think what they’re trying to build here is really good. But there’s a lot of new faces and (Diggins-Smith) is a phenomenal player so there’s a lot to make up there but I think where that our culture is at right now and where our minds are at is the best that it’s been in a long time.”
As for Griner, Cunningham, who said she is not a very emotional person who cries a lot, “broke down” when she saw that Griner was coming home. Cunningham spoke on how great it feels to have Griner back just to hang out with and go to dinner with.
Cunningham discusses Mat Ishbia becoming Mercury owner
In February, the Phoenix Suns and Mercury were acquired by billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia.
Cunningham talked about Ishbia and praised him for treating the WNBA team the same way he treats the NBA team.
“Me and Mat are besties already,” Cunningham said. “He’s not going to be able to get rid of me. He’s an absolutely phenomenal person. … He’s treating us just like the men. He’s empowering women, giving us what we deserve. And we haven’t had that in a long time.”
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.