Bria Hartley joins Phoenix Mercury as unrestricted free agent

After trading for Diggins-Smith earlier this week, the Phoenix Mercury found a new depth piece in Hartley.

Heading into the 2020 offseason, the Phoenix Mercury knew they’d be starting — to some degree — from scratch. The Mercury had five free agents as well as two retiring players, plus the No. 5 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. They traded one of those free agents, DeWanna Bonner, for three more draft picks, then flipped a package of three picks for Skylar Diggins-Smith. As they slowly rebuild the depth they lost to free agency this year, Phoenix now will sign Bria Hartley, an unrestricted free agent from the New York Liberty.

At age 27, Hartley scored 9.8 points per game to go with 3.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds. She handled the highest usage rate of her career as the threesome of Epiphanny Prince, Shavonte Zellous and Sugar Rodgers departed New York. But in Phoenix, Hartley will settle into a role more suitable to her skill set.

Bria Hartley is a young, athletic, playmaking guard,” Phoenix general manager Jim Pitman said. “She’s coming off one of the best seasons in her six-year career with New York and we’re excited to pair her alongside our new ‘Big Three’ here in Phoenix.  Her ability to pass the ball and knock down three-pointers provides us more depth to an already potent offense.”

The signing for Phoenix corresponds with Leilani Mitchell signing in Washington on Thursday morning. Mitchell was a revelation for the Mercury in 2020 while Diana Taurasi recovered from back surgery and a corresponding hamstring injury, winning the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2020. She will head to the Mystics with the chance at a starting spot, while Phoenix will slot Diggins-Smith into the starting lineup with Hartley backing her up.

As for the Mercury, a bump can be expected from players like Hartley when they come to play alongside Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Life on both ends of the floor gets a little simpler playing next to Hall of Famers.

Details of Hartley’s deal were not available as of the publishing of this story, but after the Diggins-Smith maximum contract sign-and-trade, the Mercury had about $420,000 in space under the salary cap. Because Hartley has spent than three years on a WNBA roster, she is eligible for at least the new WNBA minimum base salary of $68,000.

The contract for Hartley will give Phoenix somewhere in the neighborhood of $300-350,000 left to fill out the remaining four spots on the roster – notably plenty to fit another maximum contract. High Post Hoops reported earlier this week that Phoenix was in early talks to trade for 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles. After giving up so many draft picks for Diggins-Smith, the Mercury will have to get more creative to acquire Charles.

Signing Hartley and trading for Diggins-Smith, though, gives them new flexibility in the backcourt. Briann January is currently on Phoenix’s books for one more season at $119,500 and could be the piece to swap for Charles in a trade. The Mercury also have three players on their roster from their strong 2020 draft class in Alanna Smith, Brianna Turner and Sophie Cunningham, who could entice New York in a Charles trade.

Phoenix is far from done. The Hartley signing simply gives them a solid (likely cheap) backup guard who can score on the second unit and allows the team to maintain financial flexibility as they keep building.

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