The message is the same from Diana Taurasi as it was at All-Star weekend. When is it time to think about next year?
PHOENIX — Basketball doesn’t last forever, even for the great ones. Coming off one of the greatest seasons of her career — one in which she became the WNBA’s all-time leader in total points and threes — Diana Taurasi is realizing this.
The Mercury initially gave a 10-12 week timetable for recovery from back surgery on April 24. A patient recovery during that stretch would have put her on track to return July 17 or 20 at the latest, during a home-and-home series with Dallas. That was three weeks ago.
Nagging hamstring tightness may have jeopardized the rest of the season for Taurasi, who tried playing July 16 in Connecticut and has not appeared in a game since. Phoenix has just 11 games left on its schedule and is in the midst of a playoff push. As injuries (and possible suspensions) push the Mercury to the fringes of championship contention, even 75 percent of Taurasi would help greatly, but is that possible now?
“The hammy has just been a little bit of an issue up and down,” Taurasi admitted. “It’s kind of a side effect from obviously the wear and tear and the 15 years, 19 years, playing year-round. … I think the last week and a half, two weeks and the best two weeks I’ve had, (but) I just have to be at a level to be able to go out there and really help and contribute.
“I feel like I’m really close some days and some days it’s just these little moments that keep me from being on the court. In Connecticut I gave it a go, I really wanted to be out there and contribute in some way and I did in the first half and then a little bit in the second half I pushed it a little bit — my back feels great, there’s just a couple other little hurdles I’ve got to get over right now.”
Phoenix certainly needs her, but Taurasi also admitted her own health is her “number one priority” at age 37. Even with the physical challenges her body as put her through in Year 16, Taurasi has said she has not considered retirement. Still, the competitor in her can’t help but be bothered watching from the sideline.
“I’ve had this countdown in my mind that you want to get to because you just wanna be on the floor,” she said Saturday night after a game in which she was ejected for going onto the court to split up a near-brawl with the Dallas Wings.
“You see everyone playing so hard, playing so well. Now, I just have to make sure I’m feeling good to a point where I can play basketball again. I’m really close. I’m just gonna keep plugging away, keep working hard and hopefully I can get out there by the end of the season, for sure.”
No, Taurasi is not done. This is not her farewell tour, celebrated only from the sideline and during ignominious dust-ups with worse teams.
But when USA Basketball announced the women’s national team tour that will take place this winter, lifelong friend and teammate Sue Bird wondered aloud at the press conference in Las Vegas, “Who knows how long we’re going to wear this USA jersey? I know it feels like we’re going to wear it forever, but I promise you at some point, that’s not going to be the case.”
The FIBA World Cup this fall will bleed into 2020 Olympics qualifiers and then the games themselves. Should those be Taurasi’s last national team competitions, with her contract set to expire after next season, the end may be in sight.
After the press conference, Taurasi also expressed optimism that she was nearing a return, but also said the national tour could light a fire under her.
“When you have a plan, you have a better idea of how to prepare. … When you’re inactive for long periods, things seem to creep up on you, especially at the age that we’re at, so I think (the USA Basketball tour) gives us a mindset of we need to be ready for this, and I think that helps you get ready physically and mentally.”
That was more than two weeks ago.
“She’s just not totally ready to come back, and it’s just ridiculous to try and have her out there, and it’s not good for her,” coach Sandy Brondello said earlier this month.
The truth is no one knows, save the tiny molecules that make up Taurasi’s hamstring and the L-3 disc in her back. And they’re not doing any talking.
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