Last summer was a tumultuous roller coaster ride for the Phoenix Mercury.
Even before the season began, the team began experiencing the harrowing emotional toll caused by the detention and imprisonment of star center Brittney Griner in Russia, a situation that turned into an international relations fiasco. After the season started, personnel issues and internal dissension made the team appear to be an unstable franchise that was lucky to make the playoffs.
Now with new ownership, some key signings, and the return of Griner, things can only get better for the franchise. Here’s a look at current Phoenix Mercury future odds, a review of what the team overcame last season, and why 2023 should see brighter days for the Mercury.
Phoenix Mercury Future Odds
Odds for the Mercury to win the 2023 WNBA Championship:
- Caesars Arizona: +2000
- BetMGM Arizona: +2500
- FanDuel Sportsbook: +2500
- BetRivers Arizona: +2500
Across the board, sportsbooks predict the Las Vegas Aces to repeat as WNBA champions.
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Last Season’s Woes
When former WNBA player and Stanford alumna Vanessa Nygaard took over as the head coach in January 2022, she could not have imagined in her wildest dreams what the season would behold. She often spoke of how the Griner situation impacted the team’s mental health. Mercury players and staff had a chance to meet with State Department officials about the situation on a road trip to play the Washington Mystics last June. Russia released Griner in early December.
Nygaard also had to deal with a soured relationship with veteran center Tina Charles, a player the team acquired in a three-team trade that also included adding guard Diamond DeShields. Charles, an Olympian, who led the league in scoring in 2021, quit the Mercury unexpectedly in late June. The team termed Charles’ exit a “contract divorce.”
Meanwhile, friction between two other Olympians, starting point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith and veteran guard Diana Taurasi was brewing. The tension came to a head publicly when Diggins-Smith and Taurasi had a brief altercation on the bench during the second quarter of a road game at the Las Vegas Aces. The conflict spread off the court as Aces players could hear Diggins-Smith and Taurasi arguing through the locker room walls at halftime.
Trenia Barbee @Boss__Barbee asked Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard about the conflict between teammates Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith during the game at Las Vegas Tuesday night (May 17). #WNBA #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/uPO5jk5zGS
— Hoopfeed.com 🏀 (@hoopfeed) May 18, 2022
Late in the summer, Diggins-Smith informed the team that she was not going to return for the remainder of the season. She made no secret of her disdain for Nygaard and even tweeted a clown emoji directed at the coach. After the season ended, she revealed via Instagram that she was pregnant with her second child.
Taurasi, also did not play in the team’s playoff contests due to a quadriceps strain. With an eighth-place seeding in the playoffs, the Aces, the eventual league champions, swept the Mercury in the first-round best-of-three series in two games.
It was a testament to the grit of the Mercury players that they even made the playoffs, a fact that impressed Aces head coach Becky Hammon.
“Changes, adjustments, injuries…you name it, this team has gone through it,” Hammon said. “They have a sense of resiliency to them and a sense of toughness to be able to put themselves in this spot.”
Phoenix finished the 2022 season with a 15-21 record.
The Optimism of New Ownership
In the front office last year, Mercury and Suns owner Robert Sarver, was under investigation by the NBA for allegations of racist and sexist behavior, bullying, and other workplace violations. Instead of undergoing a year-long suspension mandated by the NBA, Sarver put the Suns/Mercury organization up for sale last September.
New owners came on board in early February and expressed optimism about the immediate future of the Mercury. Mat Ishbia, the president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, took majority interest of the team while his brother Justin became the second largest shareholder. During his introductory press conference with the media on Feb. 7, Ishbia spoke about the Suns and Mercury as entities on equal footing. This was a relief to fans who sometimes felt as if the Mercury received second billing to the Suns during Sarver’s reign, even though Mercury has three league championships and the Suns none.
“I’m not the owner of the Suns and the Mercury,” said Ishbia. “I’m the steward of it. My job is to do great things for the community.”
The Kevin Durant Factor
Two days after Ishbia took over, the Suns made waves when the team acquired Kevin Durant in a trade. The addition of the two-time Finals MVP is also a boon for the Mercury as Durant is a die-hard women’s basketball fan. Durant and Mercury assistant general manager Monica Wright Rogers were the top players in the Washington, D.C. area at the same time in their senior year of high school and McDonald’s All-Americans in 2006.
Years later, the two became engaged in a real-life “Love and Basketball” story. Wright Rogers, who won two WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx, is an exciting addition to the team’s front office. She comes to the team after serving as an NBA executive and college assistant coach.
Over the years, several Suns players have been regular attendees at Mercury games. It will be no surprise to see Durant in the stands cheering on the women as well.
See how Durant’s trade impacted the Suns’ odds here.
Key Phoenix Mercury Roster Moves
Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman and Nygaard have been busy re-signing key players and making some additions in the offseason. Moves the team has made so far include:
- Feb. 3 – Re-signed guard Sophie Cunningham to a multi-year deal. Cunningham had a breakout season in 2022 and often held the team together on the court during tumultuous times.
- Feb. 7 -Re-signed center Megan Gustafson, guard Jennie Simms, and forward Sam Thomas. Gustafson, a center, was a needed presence in the paint, while Simms and Thomas bring depth on the perimeter.
- Feb. 7- Re-signed guard Sydney Wiese. Phoenix native Wiese came off the bench to average a career-high in points for the Mercury last season.
- Feb. 11 – Acquired 2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere from the New York Liberty in a four-team trade that also gave the Mercury the 2025 second-round pick and 2024 third-round pick from the Chicago Sky.
- Feb. 13 – Signed guard Moriah Jefferson. A six-year veteran, Jefferson is a speedy, dynamic, shot-creating guard who played well for the Lynx last season.
- Feb. 18 – Signed legend Diana Taurasi to a multi-year deal. Vote in 2021 as the league’s greatest player of all time, Taurasi, who turned 40 last season, averaged 16.2 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.4 rebounds. She is now the oldest player in the league and became the first player in WNBA history with a 30-point game at age 40.
- Feb. 18 – Multiple reports indicate that Brittney Griner signed a one-year deal.
- Feb. 21 – The Mercury officially re-signed Griner.
It remains to be seen if Diggins-Smith returns to the team this season after giving birth to her second child.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire