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Brittney Griner stays in Phoenix on 1-year, $150K deal

March 30th, 2024

Brittney Griner is staying in Phoenix.

Griner has signed a new deal to stay with the Mercury, the league announced. According to Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats, it’s a one-year protected deal worth $150,000. The unrestricted free agent told reporters in her exit meeting after the 2023 season she had no intention of playing anywhere else.

“Phoenix is home,” Griner said. “Me and my wife literally just got a place [here]. This is it.”

Griner has been a fixture with the Mercury since the franchise drafted her No. 1 overall in 2013. The 2024 WNBA season will be her 11th and the second since she returned from a 10-month wrongful detention in Russia. She helped lead Phoenix to the 2014 WNBA title and finished second in MVP voting in 2019 and 2021.

The Mercury missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2012 after a 9-31 campaign in which they were bottom two in both offensive and defensive rating. They parted with their head coach a quarter of the way into the season and hired former Orlando Magic assistant Nate Tibbetts in October.

Griner’s return from wrongful detainment

Griner’s return to the WNBA court was a welcomed celebration for fans last May. After returning home in December, she signed a one-year $165,100 deal as an unrestricted free agent. It was a discount of the maximum to open up salary cap space.

When she left the United States in February 2022 to return to her Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg team, she was a strong MVP candidate expected to take the Mercury back to the Finals. She returned having endured Russian prisons and a verdict of nearly 10 years in jail. The former Baylor star had not touched a basketball in nearly a year, opting not to have one while she was detained because it was too difficult.

Her 2023 season went better than any could have expected after such an ordeal. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 17.5 points (nearly exactly her career average), 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. Her 22.9 points per 36 minutes was slightly better than in 2021 and ranked second of her career.

Griner appeared in her ninth All-Star game and improved as the season progressed. She will be on watch for MVP and all-WNBA accolades in 2024 with a full offseason to stay in shape and train.

For the first time, she did not go overseas to play as many stars in the league do and has said she will not play in another country again unless it is for Team USA. She rejoined the national team last year and could star at the Paris Olympic Games this summer, where the team is going for its eight gold. Griner won with the 2016 and 2021 teams.

Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner is returning to Phoenix in free agency. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

What Griner’s signing means for Mercury

Griner is the foundation for the Mercury as a key offensive contributor with one of the most efficient 2-point shooting clips in league history and a menace on defense patrolling the rim. She is also a stalwart larger-than-life fixture for the franchise with a close relationship to team personnel, particularly while she was detained.

The Mercury need to add more offensive weapons around her to pair with veteran guard Diana Taurasi, who is signed through the 2024 season and said she plans to return. Taurasi, who became the WNBA’s fist 10,000-point scorer last year, has not been been fully healthy in recent seasons and is close to retirement. The franchise has been in a win-now mentality for the last handful of seasons trying to get her a final ring.

The big hole is at guard without Skylar Diggins-Smith, an unrestricted free agent who sat out last season on maternity leave. She and the Mercury have not been on the greatest terms over the past two years. Guards Sophie Cunningham and Moriah Jefferson and forwards Michaela Onyenwere and Brianna Turner are signed.

The Mercury have the No. 3 overall pick in the April draft, which could include guards Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers and Georgia Amoore, and forwards Aaliyah Edwards and Cameron Brink. It is the last year players can take an extra year under the COVID-19 waiver.

Clark is expected to go No. 1 to the Fever and Brink is projected to the Mercury at No. 3 in Yahoo Sports’ mock draft. Brink, the Stanford national champion, would create a strong frontcourt next to Griner, improving their league-worse defensive rating and second-worst offensive rating.

The Mercury have had a rough couple of years after reaching the 2021 WNBA Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Sky. They parted ways with longtime head coach Sandy Brondello months later and fired first-time head coach Vanessa Nygaard 12 games into her second year. She was 17-31 as Phoenix’s head coach. Griner’s detainment was a cloud over their 2022 season and Diggins-Smith publicly called out her coach as a clown shortly after tensions on the bench with teammates surfaced.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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