WNBA Preview: The Phoenix Mercury want another championship

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 17: Brittney Griner
PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 17: Brittney Griner /

After failing to overcome the distance between themselves and the WNBA’s best in last year’s playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury went back to work this spring.

The Mercury are refining their approach.

I’ll admit, when I saw Phoenix general manager Jim Pitman start to make moves this spring, I was expecting an overhaul. There are only so many more years in which Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner will both be at the top of their game, and the Mercury need to siphon as many championships out of that time as possible. But even after acquiring veterans such as Sancho Lyttle and Briann January, the Mercury kept busy.

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The story last offseason was the team’s completely revamped rotation, stuffed with 10 new faces, mostly young players from overseas, as Phoenix attempted to create a new identity around Griner. By the end of the season, only Stephanie Talbot and Yvonne Turner were left in the rotation, and the Mercury couldn’t wring enough offense out of lineups featuring Griner and another big. They won two close elimination games before getting swept by Los Angeles in the semis.

So Pitman and the Mercury changed again, swirling the cocktail with a couple winning veterans to join the hangers-on from last year. While some of the youngsters from last season are gone, Turner, Talbot and the permanent energy of Emma Cannon will return. Phoenix is hoping they have found the right mix to overcome the Sparks and Lynx for the first time since 2014, when they won a championship.

Coach Sandy Brondello looked expectation straight in the eye during the first practice of the season and named her goal: another title. The front office is aware that Taurasi, who says she is in the best shape of her career after staying stateside this winter and beginning life as a mother, only has so many years left. They want to make them count.

And so Brondello and the Mercury keep tinkering, cycling through bigs to pair with Griner, and the right mix of offense and defense. Against a dynamic team like Los Angeles, it’s tough to imagine Lyttle and Griner scoring enough. Now, with Camille Little and rookie Marie Gulich also in tow, Phoenix can be more creative and use depth as an advantage, rather than a rouse like it was last season.

Predictions for 2018

Taurasi played the fewest minutes per game of her career last season, so her health would obviously be vital for Pheonix’s improvement. With a full season as the Mercury’s focal point and another championship in Russia with UMMC Ekaterinburg, Griner now has experience being the go-to on both ends. With those two at their best, Phoenix can compete with anyone.

Optimism reigns to begin every summer, but watching Gulich, January and Lyttle, it’s tough not be intrigued at the lineup flexibility Brondello will enjoy. At the very least, she will be able to throw ideas at the wall during the regular season to find what sticks best for her new roster.

Phoenix begins its season May 18 at home against Dallas.