Defending Glory

The Phoenix Mercury combines veteran skills and young talent as it looks toward a season of change

By Alex Chambers - May 21, 2015

Last season, the Phoenix Mercury chased glory. After setting a league record with a 29-win season, and sweeping the Chicago Sky in the WNBA finals, glory was theirs.

After the confetti fell, the championship banner was hoisted and the cheers ceased, fans and experts alike figured that this Mighty Mercury squad would be holding on to glory for years to come. But with the off-season came a few surprises.

The Phoenix Mercury celebrate after beating the Chicago Sky in game three of the 2014 WNBA Finals. Photos by Barry Gossage/WNBA Photos.

First and foremost, as Echo recently reported, Diana Taurasi will not be returning for the 2015 season. With a substantial salary-matching offer from her Russian club, Taurasi is sitting out in order to return to her Russian comrades following the 2015 WNBA season well rested.

Penny Taylor’s return is still a question mark as well. She also plays for the Opals, Australia’s national team, which have Olympic qualifying play later this year. In February, Taylor injured her ankle and, while it was later determined not to require surgery, it is likely she’ll be resting up to get a shot at Rio in 2016.

Then Eshaya “Shay” Murphy injured her left knee in Euroleague play in March, which put her on the bench indefinitely. Because her injury will require surgery, it’s unlikely she will be ready for the June 5 season opener against the San Antonio Stars.

The Mercury’s other Aussie, Erin Phillips, decided to depart Phoenix after only one season. To rub salt in the wound, she signed with the Mercury’s Western Conference archrivals, the Los Angeles Sparks. Phillips was a key player in the Mercury’s third championship run, so her presence on the court and in the locker room will be missed.

Returning to the Roster

Despite all the changes, the team’s core of star talent – three-time WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year DeWanna Bonner, 2014 WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree and 2014 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner – are all set to return.

Additionally, last year’s newcomers Mistie Bass and Tiffany Bias will also be donning the Mercury uniform again this season. So, not a total loss, but not the same squad fans saw last season.

Sandy Brondello, 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year, has her work cut out for her in finding suitable replacements for the gaps left in the roster. Fortunately, she will have quite a few to choose from.

League Leverage

With Taurasi sitting out, the Mercury is in need of a solid point guard. And, while Bias showed promise as a rookie last year, she’s not quite ready for primetime. Enter Leilani Mitchell, who played six seasons as point guard for the New York Liberty – not to mention she’s shot 40 percent from 3-point range. Mitchell can run the plays as well as score, which will be needed in the absence of both Taurasi and Phillips who ran the point last year.

Another new addition, forward Shameka Christon, has played in the league for 11 seasons – most recently with the San Antonio Stars. She will, without a doubt, bring a wealth of much-needed veteran experience to bring to the team.

Monique Currie has spent most of her nine-year career with the Washington Mystics, so Phoenix should be a nice change of pace (or at least a less-humid one). With a career average of 40 percent in shooting (33 percent from 3-point range), the Mercury ought to look to this forward when they need to score.

Nine-year veteran guard/forward Noelle Quinn has played all over the Western Conference – in Seattle, Los Angeles and Minnesota. Look for this UCLA alum to come off the bench for added defense as well as offense.

A familiar face to both the team and the fans, guard Jasmine James played for the Mercury in 2013, only to have her season cut short with a knee injury. Now fully recovered, she’s back to try to claim a spot on the Phoenix roster.

International Impact

Sandy Brondello (left), 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year.

From here, Brondello goes outside the WNBA to add some more potential players to the mix.

From Australia, center Cayla Francis and guard Tess Madgen, are both professional basketball players in their home country. Francis will bring some added toughness in the paint, while Madgen has superior guard skills for scoring, or fitting in as a backup point guard to Mitchell.

From across the pond, the Mercury signed Spanish guard Marta Xargay (ZAR-gay), who also looks to be a good fit for the point guard position.

Native Newcomers

The team also signed two former Arizona State University players: Becca Tobin, a 6-foot-5-inch center who’s been playing over in Europe, and Promise Amukamara, a rookie guard the Mercury drafted with the 36th overall pick.

Amukamara most recently led the Sun Devils to the Sweet 16 in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Both Tobin and Amukamara look to add youth and energy to the squad of veterans, not to mention getting to do it in their home state, as both are Arizona natives.

Rookie Recon

As per usual, the team’s rookie acquisitions came April 16 as part of the 2015 WNBA Draft. Isabelle Harrison, a 6-foot-3-inch center from the University of Tennessee was selected in the first round, 12th overall pick. In the second round, Alex Harden, a 5’11” guard out of Wichita State, was the 18th overall pick and Zofia Hruscakova, a 6’3” center from Slovakia, was the 24th overall pick.

If that seems like too many players to fit on the bench, it is. During training camp, many of these players will inevitably get cut, but a few will make the 12-man roster. As you, the X-Factor, read this story, the aforementioned players will be less than a week into training camp. And, for some, it will be the only Mercury experience they know.

No matter who makes the cut or who is sent packing, the 2015 Phoenix Mercury roster will look remarkably different than the cast of champions that brought glory back to Phoenix just eight months ago.

This, of course, leads to the single question everyone is asking: Will this team be able to defend glory in the season ahead? As any sports fan well knows, a talented group of players does not guarantee a winning team. With key players out and new names hungry for a spot on the roster, Brondello and her stars will strive to recreate that championship chemistry.

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