Saying she’s in a “serious relationship” with Phoenix, Diana Taurasi explained Tuesday why she re-signed for two more years and wants to end her career with the Phoenix Mercury — even in this new era of increased veteran player movement.
“It means a lot to be in one place for my whole career,” Taurasi said during a media video conference. “The minute I got drafted in Phoenix, I knew it was a place I was going to be for a long time. But we know in the sports world and life in general, you don’t know where it takes you sometimes.
“To be able to with an organization that is as loyal as I’ve been to them, you don’t see that very often. That’s a strong bond that I take very serious. It’s one of the things throughout my life being loyal through thick and thin, ups and downs, it makes the moments that much more special. When they say my name, I want them to say the Phoenix Mercury and vice versa. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Taurasi, 38, the WNBA career scoring leader, signed a two-year contract Monday that will take her to 18 seasons with the Mercury dating from 2004 when she was the league No. 1 overall draft pick. She has won three championships with the Mercury, most recently in 2014, and believes another is possible on a team that also includes Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Bria Hartley.
Retiring after a COVID-shortened 2020 season played entirely in Bradenton, Florida, was not an option, Taurasi said. But as an unrestricted free agent, she let her “mind wander” to other possibilities before always returning to a preference of remaining with the Mercury.
A few teams contacted Taurasi’s agent about her availability, she said, but Mercury general manager Jim Pitman made her his first phone calls when the WNBA free agency contact period opened Jan. 15.
“That he made the effort to make sure to treat me like I was an unrestricted free agent and I could go wherever I wanted,” Taurasi said. “That told me they were very serious about it. Just to think about all the times I’ve had in Phoenix and the memories we’ve built. We’ve done a lot in 17 years, and I don’t think we’re done.”
Taurasi, who has made All-WNBA 14 times including second team in 2020, will be paid a super max salary, the most of her domestic career. The Mercury are coming off a 13-9 season and second round playoff showing. As recently as 2018, they were one win away from making the WNBA Finals.
After more than half the roster turned over in 2020, Taurasi is looking forward to building on a returning core that she believes will include 6-9 Griner, who left the bubble after playing 12 games but now is back playing with her Russian team.
“BG and I have a great relationship,” Taurasi said. “She’s been so vital to our success in so many ways. Sometimes you need to step away from the game. I’ve had to do that in different manners in my career,” including sitting out the 2015 WNBA season to avoid playing year-round. “Sometimes you need to press the re-set button, moving forward as a team and individual and looking at what the future looks like.
“The times we’ve been able to be healthy and on the court, we have as a good a chance as anyone else to win a championship. I think that’s what I look forward to the most. We’re both under contract. We both better show up in shape and ready to go. That’s one thing I’ve been stressing to BG and Skylar and Bria. We’ve got to come in and be elite, that’s more than points and assists and rebounds. That means a presence, coming to work every day, taking it serious. Those are the things that galvanize the team.”
The Mercury went on a 7-1 streak late in the season after Griner’s departure, playing a different style focused on the guards with Kia Vaughn filling in at center. Taurasi believes with a full training camp and longer season, perhaps a full 36 games, that coach Sandy Brondello will find a way to successfully blend the perimeter talent with Griner.
“It was challenging to put it all together,” in the bubble, Taurasi said. “There were glimpses of stretches of games where we all played and you’re like this is how it will fit together. We have to go back in our memories and see the things that worked really well and try to make them mesh. To play to everyone’s strengths and to collectively be on the same page as far how we want to play stylistically.
“When BG is there, these are things that worked really well for us. When she left, how we morphed into a different team, and how do you put those two things together. There’s no reason we can’t play at that high level with our full roster. That’s going to be a mindset and a lot of sacrifice. But we’re all old enough to know if you want to win, you’re going to have to sacrifice whatever that might be.”
Taurasi touched on a variety of other topics in a 30-minute plus conversation with local and national media.
On Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, also drafted in 2004 (third overall)
“Who wouldn’t want to see Larry come back? When you talk about monumental figures in the NFL, you talk about Larry. When you talk about someone you want your son to be like, it’s Larry. When you talk about someone who symbolizes Phoenix and the grit we have, it’s Larry. Why wouldn’t he want to come back with that young roster, and he brings that stability of this is how things are done to get where you want to go? For us fellow athletes in Phoenix, we follow his footsteps in a lot of ways, how he’s carried himself off the field, on the field. He’s our Mount Rushmore, we need him in Phoenix.”
On Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul, who like Taurasi played in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She also played at the 2004 and 2016 Olympics and is a leading candidate for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
“I love Chris, he’s one of my favorite. We actually walked into two opening ceremonies together. I admire Chris so much, just his competitive fire. That’s one thing I tell young kids is watch Chris Paul play basketball. He doesn’t just play the game. He’s trying to beat the game. Those are the things I look at when I watch other players. Do you just play the game or are you trying to win? You can see that because everywhere he goes he’s on winning teams especially when he goes to teams that have a glimmer of hope. Chris comes in and shows them what it looks like. You see everyone’s level rise. It’s the same with Larry. To see those guys first hand, that’s been the best lessons I’ve had as an athlete.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-444-80 Follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe.
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