January 9, 2023
2023 WNBA free agency preview: Phoenix Mercury
The task ahead, by the numbers
The Phoenix Mercury will have to make both difficult and obvious decisions when WNBA free agents are allowed to negotiate with teams on Jan. 21.
Griner, who was released from Russian detention in December, is the team’s most important free agent and Taurasi, at 40 years old, has been productive when she has been healthy the past couple of seasons.
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With the 10 months she spent detained, it would have been understandable if Griner decided to sit the 2023 season out. However, the seven-time All-Star said she will play for Phoenix in 2023. It would also be understandable if Taurasi decided to walk away from the game as she has left nothing to prove on the basketball court. However, she has indicated she will play again.
Phoenix has $881,650 in cap room with three players currently under contract heading into the 2023 season.
Griner is eligible for a supermax contract of $234,936, which will take up a significant amount of the cap room. If, for instance, Taurasi re-signs for $200,000, the two stars would take up $434,936 of the $881,650.
The three players under contract for the 2023 season are guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, guard Diamond DeShields and forward Brianna Turner. Diggins-Smith is set to make $234,350, Deshields is set to make $154,500 and Turner is set to make $150,000. Second-year guard Sam Thomas will also be back for Phoenix as she has the reserved player designation. She should not command a high salary as she averaged just 0.4 points per game in only 24 games played in 2022.
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As for restricted free agents, the Mercury have guard Sophie Cunningham ($75,000 salary in 2022), forward Megan Gustafson ($72,141 salary in 2022) and guard Shey Peddy ($72,141 salary in 2022). The team seems poised to match whatever offer another team sends Cunningham’s way as Mercury social media has been flooded with Cunningham-related posts this offseason. She should command a higher salary as she averaged a career-best 12.9 points per game last season.
If Thomas signs for the $62,285 minimum, the remaining six players would need to average just $64,072 in salary. The minimum for any player with three or more years of WNBA experience is $74,305, so the team would need to cut salary in some way to keep a player like Cunningham or sign a veteran free agent. A player who could be moved to free up cap room is Diggins-Smith, who stepped away toward the end of the 2022 season. Moving the guard would free up $234,350 in cap room.
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The other difficult decisions the team has to make are whether or not to bring back Peddy, who was having a career-year in 2022 before rupturing her Achilles in August, or unrestricted free agent Kia Nurse, who tore her ACL in the 2021 playoffs and missed the 2022 season.
The Mercury can bring back Nurse or Peddy, or they can opt to bring in a free agent with similar skills and less injury history.
Phoenix also has two draft picks, No. 27 and No. 29, in the third round. They will be in the mix in training camp and will not count toward the cap unless they make the team.