Phoenix Mercury 2019 season preview
Story and photos by Devin Millington, June 2019 Issue.
This winter saw the Phoenix Mercury heating up and not always for the good. For instance, one of the first off-season moves was to fire Assistant Coach Todd Trexel after he was charged with domestic violence. The charges against Trexel were later dropped by prosecutors due to Trexel’s fiancé's refusal to cooperate. Nonetheless, this situation has provided the Mercury with an exciting opportunity to elevate former Mercury player (and wife of Diana Taurasi) Penny Taylor to assistant coach. Taylor spent the 2018 season taking care of her infant son Leo, born just weeks before the season opener. Don’t be surprised to see an all-female coaching staff!
Regarding player moves, the Mercury tried to sign
Sparks guard and Baylor alum Odyssey Sims, but the Sparks matched the Mercury
offer for the restricted free agent, ending the chance to reunite Sims with her
college center, Brittney Griner.
Days later, the Mercury successfully snatched flamboyant guard and 10-year veteran Essence Carson away from the Sparks. The six-foot guard joins an already bloated backcourt, which could make for an interesting pre-season. XFactor member and basketball aficionado Lorri Cap gave a thumb’s up to the Carson acquisition, saying, “It comes down to winning championships and Carson has the rings and experience. The Mercury organization has been focusing on the notion that experience wins championships, so I’m excited to see how she plays with our ladies and give (Carson) support, even though she came from LA.”
Injured forward Sancho Lyttle re-signed with the
Mercury, but her health status is still a bit of a mystery. Lyttle blew out her
ACL midseason last year and has been rehabbing away from the team facilities,
according to a Mercury senior official. “All player contracts are up to Jim
(Pittman). I’m sure Jim was confident in Sancho’s health when the contract was
signed. The team will know exactly what’s up with Sancho once she reports to
training camp,” says Bryce Marsee.
General Manager Jim Pittman selected Stanford forward Alanna Smith in the first
round (eighth pick) of the 2019 WNBA draft in April. The Aussie has been
coached by Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello for their national team, so the
pick was not surprising. Smith was the most efficient scorer in 2018-19 and
averaged 19.6 PPG and 8.6 RPG last season with Stanford. Late in the first
round, Pittman took part in a multi-team trade, resulting in the Mercury
trading away center Marie Gülich for Notre Dame star forward Brianna Turner.
The team then picked up Missouri standout Sophie Cunningham. In the final round
of the draft, Pittman selected Louisville guard Arica Carter. Of all the players selected, Alanna Smith
will likely be the only rookie the Mercury keep, but Brianna Turner could come
out of training camp in the 12th player slot.
missing the 2017 season, DeWanna Bonner resumed her place among the Mercury Big
Three, playing so large the WNBA named her Comeback Player of the Year for
2018. That kind of play also brings about labels, as in Core Player. 2019 marks
the second year in a row the Mercury has saddled Bonner with the designation.
Bonner is in a unique situation, as her wife and former Mercury starting
forward Candice Dupree is now with the Indiana Fever. It’s fair to say they’d
like to be on the same team again. With Bonner likely to be tagged as a Core
Player for an additional two years, a reunion will likely not happen for a
just experienced her first full winter of resting. Briann January rested and
rehabbed after off-season shoulder surgery. January also spent the winter as a
member of the Arizona State University Women’s basketball coaching staff. Mercury
forward Camille Little has been MIA, not showing up overseas or in the news.
Cap speculates Little will not be with the Mercury this summer.
Health is always the key to any successful run at a
championship and since this is a women’s game, pregnancy always affects teams.
This year the Dallas Wings are dealing with all-star guard Skylar
Diggins-Smith’s pregnancy. The Wings are also dealing with their star center
Liz Cambage demanding a trade. The Minnesota Lynx’s perennial all-star Maya
Moore is sitting out the 2019 season, making theirs a season of somnambulating
and likely missing the playoffs. Meanwhile, the defending champions Seattle
Storm suffered a monumental blow when 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart tore her
Achilles tendon while playing for Russia in Euro League’s Championship game in
mid-April. Stewart had surgery to repair the tear and will likely sit out the
entire 2019 WNBA season.
all the tumult and injuries throughout the league, it’s tough to predict who
will find success. The West has been the stronger conference for several years,
but the East may be making a comeback. Connecticut will be a contender with
Atlanta battling them in the rankings. As for the West, it looks like Phoenix
will battle their arch rival, the Los Angeles Sparks, for the top spot. If the
Mercury can stay healthy and find a couple of lucky pennies, they have the best
shot at taking it all. And if the Mercury win their fourth WNBA Championship,
most people will expect Taurasi to retire, but she won’t. 2020 will be her
final year in the W!