Brittney Griner back with Phoenix Mercury, team prepares for season opener against Seattle Storm

Skylar Diggins-Smith on maternity leave to start season


Lorie Shaull (Flickr)

Brittney Griner is back in the Phoenix Mercury lineup

Preston Grace, Reporter

Between a controversy-filled season, and getting swept out of the first round of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs, by the Las Vegas Aces, the Phoenix Mercury must be looking forward to leaving the drama behind, and starting out fresh this season.

 The Mercury’s biggest offseason storyline was Brittney Griner’s December release, after being imprisoned in Russia for almost ten months following her arrest in February, 2022.

 Griner signed a one-year, $165,000 contract with the Mercury in February, making this her 10th WNBA season with the Mercury.

 Mercury general manager Jim Pitman expressed his excitement in a press release following Griner’s contract signing.

“We missed BG (Brittany Griner) every day that she was gone and, while basketball was not our primary concern, her presence on the floor, in our locker room, around our organization, and within our community was greatly missed,” Pitman said in the statement.

“We will continue to use the resources of our organization to support her, on and off the floor, and we are thrilled for her that she gets to return to basketball, which she loves so dearly. This is a special signing and today is a special day for all of us,” Pittman wrote.

Although Griner has been practicing at the team’s facility and has met with several Phoenix Suns players, including Kevin Durant, it is still not clear whether she will take the court for their first game on May 21.

The Mercury were also caught off guard when starting point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith announced her pregnancy in October. She will receive her full salary while on maternity leave to start the season.

 Other point guards were signed in order to fill her scheduled absence, including Moriah Jefferson, a six-year veteran from the Minnesota Lynx.

 Jefferson could be just what the doctor ordered for the team. She is the perfect veteran point guard to keep the team afloat, and then come off the bench when Diggins-Smith returns.

 The biggest change to the roster happened when the Mercury traded guard Diamond DeShields to the Dallas Wings in a four-team deal with the Sky, and Liberty. The Mercury received former Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere from the New York Liberty.

 Playing for her third head coach in three seasons, Onyenwere will likely need some time to adjust to her new team. If she is able to do so, the Mercury will benefit tremendously from her on-court talents.

 The main concern for the team heading into the season is whether or not Griner can come back as the player she was before her incarceration.

 Diana Taurasi, one of Griner’s teammates, addressed Griner’s progress in an interview with ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss on Tuesday.

“I think she’s gotten better,” Taurasi said.  “Yeah, I think she’s progressed. I mean, when you don’t do anything for 10 months, yeah, it’s a long strain on your body — mentally, physically. But every week you just see her getting a little bit better.”

In 2021, Griner had the best season of her career, averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, having a 57.5% field goal percentage.

 The 2023 WNBA season starts on May 19.

 The Phoenix Mercury’s first game will be on the road in Seattle against the Storm.