Phoenix Mercury regrouping as WNBA Playoff contenders

The WNBA offseason isn't over yet but the Phoenix Mercury have already established themselves as one of the biggest winners with a rebooted roster.

Phoenix Mercury v New York Liberty
Phoenix Mercury v New York Liberty / Dustin Satloff/GettyImages

WNBA free agency has taken the world by storm. All-Star caliber players have moved on to new destinations and are ready for their journey to compete for championships. Of all 12 teams in the WNBA, the team that has regrouped as a playoff contender for the 2024 season the most has been the Phoenix Mercury. 

The Mercury have come a long way following their trip to the 2021 WNBA Finals. And I don’t mean that in a positive way. The franchise had to figure out how to play without their star center, Brittney Griner, as she was arrested and detained in Russia in 2022. As Griner returned for the 2023 season, All-Star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith was sidelined after giving birth plus friction with the front office and head coach Vanessa Nygaard led to her departure.

The result of the Mercury’s changes was missing the playoffs each year. Last season, they finished with a 9-31 record which was the worst of the WNBA. The ultimate highlight from the season was Diana Taurasi surpassing 10,000 career points in a win over the Atlanta Dream. However, it was a season of pain and agony for the Mercury as they could never find their footing as a unit. 

After a horrific season, it was time for the front office to regroup. The first move was hiring Nate Tibbetts as their new head coach. Tibbett has 20 years of experience as a head coach in the NBA, recently as an assistant with the Orlando Magic. With a new head coach, it was also time for the Mercury to make moves in Free Agency. 

Natasha Cloud signing

The Mercury front office was faced with the ultimate test of free agency. Brittney Griner is an unrestricted free agent who is expected to re-sign with the team. However, Phoenix lost a key contributor as Megan Gustafson signed with the Las Vegas Aces. Luckily, the front office made a move as they signed veteran guard Natasha Cloud on the first day of free agency.

Cloud’s signing was a first step in the right direction for Phoenix. This is an elite two-way guard who can take matters into her own hands. Cloud spent eight seasons in Washington and was a big contributor to their 2019 championship season. As her career has continued, Cloud shows that she doesn’t mind taking matters into her own hands. She lives for the pressure and will do whatever is necessary to help her team win. 

The pairing of Cloud and Taurasi could be a great backcourt. Cloud could take the task of being the primary ball-handler/playmaker while Taurasi continues to move without the ball. With Taurasi in the twilight years of her career, playing next to a player like Cloud can help her continue to be a valuable scorer at a high level. 

Rebecca Allen Trade 

After the signing of Cloud, the Mercury’s mission to rebuild the roster wasn’t done. They needed to bring in quality players who could help transform the team into a contender. Throughout the 2023 season, Moriah Jefferson was the team’s starting point guard and did a great job producing on both ends of the floor. However, the WNBA is a business and teams must make sacrifices to elevate their roster.

The Mercury traded Moriah Jefferson to the Connecticut Sun for Rebecca Allen. For many insiders, this was a head-scratching decision from the Sun to trade away one of their key players. Allen played a huge role with their team with her ability to space the floor on offense and disrupt teams with her length. 

The production that Allen gave Connecticut is going to translate to the desert. The Mercury needed another floor spacer who could share the floor next to players like Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. Luckily, Allen can add that. She shot 34 percent from three last season and had big games offensively. Allen’s presence is another asset in Phoenix’s chances of being contenders moving forward 

Kahleah Copper trade 

On Tuesday morning, the world was in a frenzy. WNBA Insider Khristina Willams reported that forward Kahleah Copper was traded to the Phoenix Mercury. When the trade was official, many people were confused. Copper signed an extension with the Sky last season and had hopes of helping rebuild the team into title contenders again. 

Unfortunately, the Sky missing out on key free agents, Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith, showed that there was no hope of contention in the near future. With that being said, the franchise did what was best for the 29-year-old Copper and her future. 

In the 2021 Finals, Copper won Finals MVP, averaging 17 points to go with 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Her dominance against the Mercury led to the Sky having full control of the series and being able to finish it in style. Three years later, Phoenix has Copper on their side now, hoping for the same benefits that she provided with Chicago. 

Like Cloud, Copper is another player who can take matters into her own hands. She has the experience of being the number one option and is not afraid of the pressure. Over the past several seasons, Copper has continued to grow as an offensive talent. While she’s known for her ability to score inside, she has also torched the defense from the perimeter as well. 

Adding Kahleah Copper to the Mercury completes a new era in Phoenix. The combination of her, Cloud, Taurasi, Allen, and Griner has elevated the franchise as the next big thing in the WNBA. It may take them some time to mesh and build chemistry with one another. However, once they learn how to play together, they have a chance at being a favorite to win the 2024 WNBA Championship. 

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