Mercury Digest: Griner, Taurasi named to Team USA training camp

Mercury center Brittney Griner and point guard Diana Taurasi have been named to the 14-athlete roster for Team USA training camp, which is from April 3 to April 5 at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Cleveland.

Taurasi is a five-time Olympian (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020) while Griner is a two-time Olympian (2016 and 2020).

The USA Basketball Women’s National Team is coached by Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx). She is assisted by Kara Lawson (Duke University), Joni Taylor (Texas A&M University) and Mike Thibault (Washington Mystics).

USA Basketball is trying to win its eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal and is in the process of examining the player pool before naming a team for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Phoenix Mercury announce preseason dates

The Phoenix Mercury announced their two-game preseason schedule, starting with Seattle on May 7 at 7 p.m. at Climate Pledge Arena.

The Mercury will host the Los Angeles Sparks at Footprint Center on Friday, May 10 at 7 p.m. Preseason broadcast and ticket information will be announced at a later date.

The Mercury will open the regular season on the road against the Las Vegas Aces on May 14 before returning for the home opener on May 18 against the Atlanta Dream.

Phoenix brings back Sug Sutton on training camp contract

One year since grinding her way to a roster spot for the Mercury last season, Sug Sutton will return to the Phoenix Mercury on a training camp contract.

Sutton, who was on a training camp contract last season, appeared in all 40 games and made 12 starts. In her second season, Sutton averaged 8.2 points, a team-high 4.8 assists (9th in WNBA), and 2.6 rebounds per game.

Not only did Sutton spark the bench throughout the season, but she recorded the first triple-double in Mercury history with 18 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds on Sept. 8. She scored in double figures 15 times last season, including two 20-plus point performances.

Phoenix Mercury guard Sug Sutton (1) moves forward the basket against Washington Mystics guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (32) at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Sept. 5, 2023.
Phoenix Mercury guard Sug Sutton (1) moves forward the basket against Washington Mystics guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (32) at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Sept. 5, 2023.

The Mercury now have seven guards on the 11-player roster. The Mercury will have a different look heading into the upcoming season without guards Shey Peddy and Moriah Jefferson. Peddy signed with the Connecticut Sun in free agency after spending the last four seasons in Phoenix, and Jefferson was traded to the Sun for guard Rebecca Allen.

Mercury acquire Connecticut forward Allen in sign-and-trade

The Mercury have acquired Connecticut Sun forward Rebecca Allen in exchange for guard Moriah Jefferson in a sign-and-trade deal.

Allen played last season with the Sun after spending the first seven years of her career with the New York Liberty. The Australia native averaged 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds in 2023 while starting in 27 of her 40 games played. During the season, Allen became the 10th fastest player in WNBA history to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 150 blocks and 180 three-point field goals made (195 games).

In Connecticut’s win against New York in Game 1 of the 2023 WNBA Semifinals, Allen posted a playoff career-high 18 points on 77.8% shooting (4-of-6 from three) while adding seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

Jefferson started in 36 of 39 games at point guard for the Mercury last season. She averaged 10.5 points, 3.6 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game.

The trade will help the Mercury, who need post depth after losing Megan Gustafson to free agency. Gustafson signed a two-year deal with the Las Vegas Aces.

WNBA: Should Phoenix Mercury trade the No. 3 pick for Elena Delle Donne to form a new Big 3?

Guard Skylar Diggins-Smith leaves Mercury, signs with Seattle Storm

Former Phoenix Mercury point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith signed with the Seattle Storm on Thursday as the WNBA free-agent signing period opened.

Diggins-Smith, a free agent, spent the last four years with the Mercury but didn’t play last season due to maternity leave. In 2022, she posted one of her best seasons, including 19.7 points per game and 5.5 assists.

More: Mercury's Skylar Diggins-Smith slams team for treatment while on maternity leave

Her tenure with the Mercury had its ups and downs. Diggins-Smith reported in August that the team did not allow her to use its practice facility while on maternity leave. Throughout the offseason, Diggins-Smith has alluded to not returning to the Mercury on social media.

As reported earlier, the Mercury will be signing guard Natasha Cloud to deal with the opening left by Diggins-Smith.

Guard Natasha Cloud signed by Mercury

Unrestricted free agent guard Natasha Cloud will be leaving the Washington Mystics for the Phoenix Mercury, as first reported by Khristina Williams. The move was later announced by the Mercury.

The 2015 second-round draft pick has spent her entire eight-year career with the Mystics, helping them bring a title in 2019.

“I’m hyped to be coming to the Valley, and be part of building back the Mercury’s dynasty,” Cloud said in a news release. “D.C. has been my home for nine years and leaving the fans and city isn’t easy, but I’m excited to be part of an organization that values the person and player that I am. I can’t wait to get to Phoenix and get to work with my teammates.”

Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud (9) takes a shot against Phoenix Mercury guard Moriah Jefferson (8) in the second half at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Aug. 8, 2023.
Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud (9) takes a shot against Phoenix Mercury guard Moriah Jefferson (8) in the second half at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Aug. 8, 2023.

Cloud, 31, started in all 37 games played and averaged a career-high 12.7 points and shot 37.7% from the field. She averaged 6.2 assists per game.

“Natasha is an elite playmaker, one of the best defenders in the league and is coming off a career year as a scorer,” Mercury General Manager Nick U’Ren said in the news release. “The tenacity and energy Natasha plays with, on both ends of the court, will help make our team more dynamic, versatile and competitive.”

Thursday marks the beginning of WNBA free agency and the Mercury will have several key players to re-sign or replace, including Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner named to USA Basketball minicamp

Phoenix Mercury players Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner will join the U.S. women's basketball national team for a few days in New York next month before playing in the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgium.

Taurasi and Griner were named to the 18-player roster for a USA Basketball women’s minicamp next week. Taurasi is a five-time Olympic champion and is seeking her sixth gold medal. Griner is a two-time Olympic champion.

The camp, led by national team head coach Cheryl Reeve, is a huge step in determining a 12-player roster for a pre-Olympic tournament the following week in Belgium. In the last two Olympic cycles, the February camp has included most of the players later named to the Olympic team.

The Americans have already qualified for the Paris Olympics by winning the World Cup in 2022.

The U.S. women seek an eighth consecutive Olympic title this summer, which would break the record for any Olympic team sport. The U.S. women share the record with the U.S. men’s basketball team, which won the first seven Olympic tournaments from 1936 through 1968.

Mercury announce 2024 regular season schedule

The Phoenix Mercury released their 2024 regular season schedule, starting on the road against the defending champion Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday, May 14.

The home opener will be on Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. against the Atlanta Dream.

Like last season, the league unveiled a 40-game regular season schedule, but will have a new format for the Commissioner’s Cup, the league’s in-season tournament, and a month-long break for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. 

The Mercury will play 25 games through July 16, leading up to Phoenix hosting the WNBA All-Star 2024 from July 19-20. After the 2024 Olympics, the Mercury will tip off the second half of the regular season schedule on August 15 at Chicago.

This season will feature 10 weekend contests (three Friday, three Saturday and four Sunday) and 10 weekday home games (two Monday, two Tuesday, two Wednesday and four Thursday). June will be the busiest month at home with seven games.

The Mercury have a five-game homestand spanning Aug. 26 to Sept. 5, which marks the team’s longest home stretch since 2018.

In the first part of the season, the Mercury will play five in-season tournament games, one against each of its in-conference rivals, from June 1-13. The Mercury will face the LA Sparks (June 2), Minnesota Lynx (June 7) and Las Vegas Aces (June 13) at home, and the Seattle Storm (June 4) and Dallas Wings (June 9) on the road.

The team from each conference with the top record in Commissioner’s Cup games will compete for a $500,000 prize pool in the championship on Tuesday, June 25 at the arena of the team with the best record in Cup play.

WNBA veteran Kristi Toliver named associate head coach

The Phoenix Mercury under head coach Nate Tibbetts will work alongside a veteran player on his coaching staff.

Kristi Toliver was named associate head coach on Friday following 14 seasons in the WNBA that included two WNBA championships and three All-Star appearances.

Toliver suffered a season-ending torn ACL in September while playing with the Washington Mystics.

She was the first active player in WNBA history to have served as an assistant coach in the NBA when she joined the Washington Wizards bench in 2018. Altogether she has four seasons in the NBA split between the Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks.

WNBA announces 2024 Draft Lottery details

The WNBA Draft Lottery 2024 is set to air on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.

The 30-minute program will be shown between the final two games of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase tripleheader featuring Utah vs. South Carolina and North Carolina vs. UConn.

The Mercury have the second-best odds to land the No. 1 pick behind the Indiana Fever. Both teams will be up against the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm in the lottery.

The 2024 WNBA Draft is currently scheduled to take place on Monday, April 15.

Brittney Griner earns season-long WNBA Cares Community Assist Award

Mercury center Brittney Griner was awarded the season-long WNBA Cares Community Assist Award on Friday in recognition of her work for trying to bring wrongful detainees overseas back to the United States and for helping marginalized communities in Phoenix.

The WNBA Cares Community Assist Award is awarded monthly during the season to the player who best reflects the WNBA’s passion to make a difference in the community. The WNBA will donate $20,000 to be split among charities of Griner’s choice: Bring our Families Home and Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Griner spent the whole season working with BOFH, a campaign that spreads awareness for Americans wrongfully detained overseas, after being wrongfully detained in Russia herself. She has also worked with her own campaign, the BG Heart & Sole Shoe Drive, which brought in almost 3,000 pairs of shoes this season.

“I’m grateful to receive this recognition from the WNBA but even more grateful to the X-Factor fans, fans all around the league, and our Phoenix Mercury organization for working together this year to make a difference through my Heart and Sole Shoe Drive and Bring Our Families Home,” Griner said in a statement. “I know the opportunity, privilege and responsibility I have to make a difference in the lives of others, and I’ll always remain committed to that.”

Griner and the Mercury hosted families and friends of wrongful detainees at Mercury games in Phoenix and around the country when the team visited other markets. The BOFH’s logo was on the home court the entire season.

The Mercury have won the season-long award for two consecutive seasons since Brianna Turner won last season. Griner won the monthly award in June.

It’s official, Nate Tibbetts new Phoenix coach

The Mercury on Wednesday named Nate Tibbetts the 12th head coach in franchise history.

Tibbetts brings 18 years of pro coaching experience, including 12 seasons as an NBA assistant with the Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers, and six years in the G League.

“Nate is an excellent basketball coach and an even better person,” General Manager Nick U’Ren said in a statement. “I am excited to work with him as we build an organization that our players, fans and community will be proud of. His knowledge of the game, and commitment to creating a winning culture on and off the floor will be invaluable as we lead the Mercury into our next championship era.”

Said Tibbetts: “My family and I are thrilled to be a part of the Mercury organization. The leadership, alignment and commitment from Mat Ishbia, Josh Bartelstein and Nick U’Ren made this an incredible opportunity. I look forward to being a part of the Mercury and building and sustaining a winning organization on and off the court that our community can support and rally around.”

Staff report

Taurasi wins WNBA Western Conference honor

Diana Taurasi has been named the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for games played from July 31 to August 6. The league’s all-time leading scorer earned the award after becoming the first player in WNBA history to reach 10,000 career regular-season points on Aug. 3 vs. Atlanta.

This marks Taurasi’s franchise-best 21st career Player of the Week honor and her first since June 2017. She has received the award the fifth most times in league history behind only Tina Charles (32), Candace Parker (26), Elena Delle Donne (24) and Tamika Catchings (22).

Taurasi led the WNBA in scoring for the week, averaging 33.0 points in three games on 54.4% shooting (46.9% from three), while adding 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The night she surpassed 10,000 points she did so with a 42-p

GM Jim Pitman retiring, Warriors' U'Ren taking over

Phoenix Mercury general manager Jim Pitman will retire following the 2023 WNBA season, the team announced Monday.

Pitman became the Mercury's GM in 2013 and was a part of the team’s WNBA championship in 2014. He will remain in his role as the team’s executive vice president and CFO of the Phoenix Suns.

In his tenure, he’s amassed the most wins (169) of any general manager in franchise history. The Mercury have made nine consecutive playoff appearances under him.

“It has been a great privilege to oversee 10 seasons of Mercury basketball and to have had a day-to-day role in the franchise I've been involved in since its inception in 1997,” Pitman said in a statement. “There have been extraordinary highs — winning a championship, witnessing Diana Taurasi becoming the WNBA's all-time leading scorer, and of course watching Brittney Griner return to basketball.”

Golden State Warriors basketball executive and Arizona native Nick U’Ren will replace Pitman as the new general manager. U'Ren was with the Phoenix Suns for five seasons.

“I think when you’re having the season that we’ve had, you’re excited for the change because I fully believe in who Mat (Ishbia) is bringing in," forward Sophie Cunningham said. "Phoenix will be a championship team again and it will be a powerhouse. It’s just a matter of time. But right now, you can’t focus on that because we’re trying to win this year. We’re trying to get to the playoffs this year.”

U’Ren will work with Pitman on the transition and will take over responsibilities full-time at the end of the season. The team has already undergone personnel changes this season with Vanessa Nygaard out at head coach and Nikki Blue taking over as the interim head coach.

Charli Turner Thorne named Mercury assistant coach

Legendary Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne has returned to coaching and will serve as the assistant coach for the Phoenix Mercury.

Turner Thorne retired after 25 seasons at ASU to explore a new chapter in her life. She will rejoin her former assistant Nikki Blue, who is now the interim head coach for the Mercury.

When Blue received the news that she was elevated to head coach following Vanessa Nygaard’s midseason firing on Sunday, Turner Thorne was the second person she called.

“She was very supportive, as she always is,” Blue said. “She said, You’re ready. You’re beyond ready.”

Turner Thorne remains the winningest coach in ASU women’s basketball history and the second-winningest coach in Pac-12 women’s basketball history, behind coaching icon Tara VanDerveer.

“Charli is one of the top coaches in women’s basketball — a proven winner — and I am excited to be able to coach alongside her again,” Blue said.  “She brings more than 28 years of experience to the Mercury, and will be invaluable in providing our players with every opportunity to improve individually and as a team.”

Blue earned her first win as the head coach for the Mercury on Thursday against the Indiana Fever.

Brittney Griner earns ninth All-Star selection

Brittney Griner was one of 10 players elected by fans, current WNBA players and media for the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game set for July 15 at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

Griner’s nine All-Star selections are the most of any 2023 starter. Griner currently ranks ninth in scoring (19.1 ppg), 16th in rebounding (6.4 rpg), and paces all players in blocks (2.4 bpg).

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi named to Team USA training camp