Current roster certainties and virtual certainties:
PG: Samantha Prahalis
SG: Diana Taurasi/Alexis Hornbuckle
SF: DeWanna Bonner/Charde Houston
PF: Candice Dupree
C: Nakia Sanford
Injured: Penny Taylor
Fighting for the remaining three roster spots: Andrea Riley, Alexis Gray-Lawson, Krystal Thomas, Zane Tamane, C’eira Ricketts, and a whole host of other people.
Remember when I said Atlanta had a pretty poor offseason? Well Phoenix’s was probably worse. They kicked it off by trading their starting point guard, Temeka Johnson, for wild (and wildly inaccurate) gunner Andrea Riley. The one defensible reason behind that move was that it opened up plenty of extra cap space, but an effort to spend that cash on restricted free agent Erin Phillips didn’t work out when Indiana matched their offer sheet. The Mercury settled for the consolation prize of Minnesota’s Alexis Hornbuckle instead (who really isn’t anybody’s idea of a point guard). Many people expected them to be in the running for the other Lynx guard on the market, Candice Wiggins, but they apparently decided she wasn’t worth the risk or the money. When Phoenix eventually decided that there weren’t any point guards left worth signing, they used some more of that cap space on another former Lynx, forward Charde Houston, finally completing the most obvious match for player and system that this league has ever seen. A no-conscience shooter who can’t defend to save her life joins a high-octane, high-volume offensive team that doesn’t play any defense anyway – a match made in Heaven.
But then came the Mercury’s moment in Hell. An unfortunate twist for Penny Taylor while playing in the EuroLeague Women Final Eight in Turkey saw her blow out her knee, ending her 2012 WNBA season before it began (along with her hopes of playing in the London Olympics). Still underrated even after people have finally started to pay attention to her in the last couple of years, the Mercury will miss Taylor horribly. Her passing and creation for others, never mind her own efficient scoring, made her probably the Mercury’s best and most vital player last season (yes, ahead of Diana Taurasi). You can paper over a hole like the one they created for themselves at point guard; losing a talent like Taylor is far more difficult to compensate for.
One thing that did fall nicely for the Merc was the draft, with the only point guard anyone rated as a first-round prospect, Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis, dropping in their laps at #6. She could well start from her very first game – regardless of how complicated head coach Corey Gaines keeps claiming his system is – because it’s not like the competition is fierce. Riley, Alexis Gray-Lawson and second-round pick C’eira Ricketts are all in camp looking to make the roster and earn minutes in the backcourt, although we may well see plenty of possessions with Taurasi working as the de facto point guard.
While they could theoretically cut Taylor (injuries sustained overseas make that an option without taking a cash or salary cap hit), the Mercury won’t be doing that, which will limit their roster to 10 active players. That cuts into how many backups they can keep, although DeWanna Bonner’s flexibility to play practically anywhere gives them options. They could keep two of those backup guards if they decide they only need one extra post, which would probably be Zane Tamane (née Teilane). Basically a stiff in her first WNBA stint in Washington in 2006, Tamane has developed overseas and now holds her own against many of the better posts in European competition. She could be a useful addition to their post rotation as long as Gaines actually uses her once she arrives. Also looking to stick in the post is Krystal Thomas, who looked occasionally serviceable last season after Seattle cut her and the Merc picked her up. Seeing as their guard options aren’t exactly glorious, it’s also possible that they keep both Tamane and Thomas, although given how little Gaines likes to play true post players it would seem like a bit of a waste.
They look pretty thin all over, whichever way they fill out the end of the bench.