Boy, is there a lot going on with the Phoenix Mercury this
(You're welcome for avoiding the very obvious "Mercury in
Following a Finals appearance last season, expectations were
high for the Mercury. The wrongful detainment of All-Star and
future Hall-of-Fame center Brittney Griner in Russia has thrown
things for a loop. The defense, in particular, has fallen apart in
Griner's absence, dropping from seventh last season (101.3 DRTG) to
11th this year (104.4 DRTG).
But the team's struggles go beyond the absence of Griner — on
and off the court.
Their premier free-agent signing, another former All-Star and
future Hall-of-Fame center in Tina Charles, is no longer on the
team; she joined the Seattle Storm after agreeing to a contract
divorce with the Mercury. Also, the relationship between Diana
Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith has been, well... let's say
Further complicating matters is a recent controversy surrounding
Taurasi, Diggins-Smith and new head coach Vanessa
Diggins-Smith has been excellent this season, earning All-Star
honors by posting averages of 19.1 points (fourth in the W), 5.0
assists (ninth), 1.8 steals (fourth) and 1.0 blocks (first among
guards). Taurasi hasn't consistently hit that level, averaging 15.5
points and 4.1 assists while not defending nearly as well as
Diggins-Smith has. She did not earn All-Star honors, something that
rubbed Nygaard the wrong way.
"There will be a game played in Chicago," Nygaard said recently.
"But it won't be an All-Star game without Diana Taurasi
It's easy to understand the sentiment. Taurasi is one of the
greatest players in basketball history. Even in a down year, she's
proven capable of turning a game on its head with her deep-range
shooting. But it's hard to argue her All-Star candidacy this season
with how deep and talented the guard group is. More importantly to
this discussion, Nygaard making those comments,
with Diggins-Smith being selected to play in the
game, wasn't a wise move.
The Mercury's Twitter account posted video of Nygaard's
comments. Diggins-Smith quote-tweeted the video with a clown emoji
(before eventually deleting it).
With this much turmoil surrounding the team, it's fair to argue
that changes are needed. According to the always-excellent Howard Megdal of The Next, the Mercury have put
Diggins-Smith on the trade block
To a certain extent, this could have ramifications for
Diggins-Smith, who has asked out of one organization, worn out her
welcome with another, and has left many others around the league
wary of adding her. And Phoenix is shopping her, multiple teams
confirmed to me.
It goes without saying, but a trade featuring Diggins-Smith has
the potential to shape this year's title race. Heck, if a move is
made, it could affect the next couple. She is arguably the best
point guard in the W — an MVP-caliber talent due to her blend of
slashing, playmaking, pull-up shooting and fiestiness on the
Finding a trade partner for Diggins-Smith could be tough. She's
making max money, and there isn't a team flushed with cap space to
absorb her deal. Beyond that, the pool would almost certainly be
limited to contending teams. You're likely not bringing her into a
rebuilding situation like Atlanta or Indiana, lest she becomes
frustrated with the lack of championship equity surrounding
But among the contending teams, nearly all of them have
high-level point guards and/or tight-knit groups that they may have
to talk themselves into breaking up.
The Chicago Sky are likely content with Courtney Vandersloot;
Sue Bird is hanging up her sneakers after this season, but it's
hard to find a package that would land Diggins-Smith in Seattle.
Several members of the Las Vegas Aces have highlighted the
leadership that Chelsea Gray, yet another former All-Star, has
provided since joining the team last season.
Maybe there's a conversation to be had with the Conneticut Sun,
who are currently trucking along with sharp-shooting Natisha
Hiedeman at point guard with Jasmine Thomas out for the season with
a torn ACL. Owen Pence of Winsidr suggested a package around
All-Star big Brionna Jones. It's worth a phone call at
Megdal briefly mentioned the Los Angeles Sparks as a potential
suitor. While they're not in the contender tier right now, the
roster does have a great deal of talent headlined by Nneka
Ogwumike. The guard room is also a bit crowded; as Megdal alluded
to, maybe there's a package to be built around Chennedy Carter.
Of course, the possibility exists that cooler heads prevail.
Maybe the market isn't there, or there's some sort of come-to-Jesus
moment that leads to the season being played out with hopes of
evaluating everything in the offseason.
For now, this becomes the most important on-court
situation to track in the WNBA.