Diana Taurasi is already under contract for another season with the Phoenix Mercury, while center Brittney Griner is not. But both said Monday they intend to take the court for the Mercury in the 2024 WNBA season and have hopes to play in the Paris Olympics.
The Mercury, who finished last in the league standings at 9-31 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012, met with the media Monday to wrap up this season and look ahead.
Taurasi missed 14 games due to injuries, the most recent due to her toe. Her last game was Aug. 29, when she played just over 13 minutes. But she said she will return for her 20th WNBA season next year, when she turns 42.
Taurasi, who this season became the first WNBA player to reach 10,000 points, said she feels very optimistic about the Mercury’s future, with new owner Mat Ishbia and new general manager Nick U’Ren having taken over this year.
“Sometimes you can do all the right things, offseason, in season. That doesn’t mean you’re always going to get what you want,” said Taurasi, who averaged 16.0 points and 4.6 assists in 26 games this season. “I’ve got another year on my contract and I’m definitely going to fulfill that. I’m excited with what we’ll be able to do in free agency and having some salary cap space to make some moves.”
Griner, who turns 33 in October, is an unrestricted free agent but said she has no thoughts of playing anywhere but Phoenix, where she has spent her 10-season WNBA career.
“Phoenix is home,” Griner said. “Me and my wife literally just got a place [here]. This is it.”
Taurasi (2004) and Griner (2013) both were No. 1 picks in years after the Mercury missed the playoffs. Phoenix will be in the 2024 draft lottery.
It is not expected that guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was on maternity leave and didn’t play this season in the WNBA, will return to the Mercury, for whom she played from 2020 to 2022. Asked if she would like to see Diggins-Smith return to play for Phoenix, Taurasi said, “Next question.”
U’Ren said regarding an update of Diggins-Smith’s future with the Mercury, “Nothing yet. But I will be in touch with her agent here shortly.”
Griner and Taurasi said they endorsed the return of interim coach Nikki Blue, who took over June 25 when Vanessa Nygaard was fired. The Mercury went 7-21 under Blue, who U’Ren said is being considered as a candidate for the job.
“Nikki Blue has all the qualities to be an unbelievable head coach,” Taurasi said. “She has an ability to lead women and make them believe in themselves. She would be an amazing asset to our team.”
Griner’s return after a 10-month detainment in Russia in 2022 was one of the highlights of this season for both the Mercury and the WNBA. She averaged 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, playing 31 of 40 games. She missed time at different points in the season with a hip injury, to focus on mental health and because of health and safety protocols.
Griner was an All-Star but said she hopes to have a better season next year and to have a chance to play again for the United States at the 2024 Paris Games. Griner is a two-time Olympian. Taurasi, who has played in five Olympics, said she will try for her sixth.
“Our first training camp is Nov. 2, and I’ll be reporting, and doing my best to hopefully be on that team,” Taurasi said of the U.S. national squad.
Griner said a book about her time in Russia will be coming out, and she acknowledged that she took time to appreciate this season despite the Mercury’s struggles.
“It’s not good being at the end of the standings,” Griner said, “but it’s better than where I was a year ago.”
Griner got emotional when asked about the recent death of Bill Richardson and about the reports of an effort by the Biden administration to free five U.S. citizens in a prisoner swap with Iran. Richardson was the former governor of New Mexico and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who worked to free Americans detained overseas, including Griner.
“That was very tough. A really good man. I owe a lot to him,” Griner said of Richardson.
Then, wiping away tears, she added of the detainees in Iran, “I can’t wait for it to be official and them to be home with their family. I know how much they are waiting for them. I know what it feels like coming home like that. Prayers up, fingers crossed that everything goes right.”