The Phoenix Mercury will spend their final two games fighting for one of the last two WNBA playoff spots. But they will do so without Skylar Diggins-Smith.
The All-Star guard will miss the team’s two remaining regular-season games due to personal reasons, starting with Friday’s contest against the Dallas Wings, the team announced Thursday afternoon.
For Phoenix’s win Saturday over New York, Diggins-Smith was listed as out with a non-COVID illness. In the team’s loss Wednesday to Minnesota, the All-Star guard was once again absent, this time listed as out for personal reasons.
Two days ago, Diggins-Smith tweeted that the WNBA has to “decide what we want our game to look like” before saying that the league, players and officials all have “very different views on how our game should be played.” Four days before that, she tweeted that she was in “survival mode.” As of Thursday, Diggins-Smith’s Twitter account has been deleted.
Diggins-Smith last played on Aug. 4 against the Sun, contributing a team-high 16 points. The game took place hours after teammate Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony.
After that game, Diggins-Smith said Griner’s imprisonment has taken a toll on the team during a challenging season for the Mercury.
Skylar Diggins-Smith had some powerful words on teammate Brittney Griner.pic.twitter.com/e4ytrxJs9A— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) August 5, 2022
Skylar Diggins-Smith had some powerful words on teammate Brittney Griner.pic.twitter.com/e4ytrxJs9A
“It’s heavy. It’s just heavy y’all,” Diggins-Smith said. “Y’all asking these questions don’t really take away from our trauma. You just add to our trauma. We can break down and cry in front of y’all, so you can see how we feel. I don’t know what else to really say about it. It’s our sister. This is not some random Jane off the street. It’s not anything we’re politicizing. It’s a human being and this is our real life friend and real life sister.
“Now I don’t expect everybody to give a damn, but we really do. We come out here and we’re still supposed to play this game. Nobody even wanted to play today. How are you supposed to approach the game, approach the court with a clear mind, and the whole group is crying before the game because you try to honor her, and you try to come out and still play hard for her.”
Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard said Wednesday that the Mercury found out before the game that Diggins-Smith would be out.
“We have gone through this earlier on Saturday,” the coach said. “We’re just one day at a time moving forward. We’ve seen everything this year, so whatever gets thrown at us, we’re ready to just lace them up and go.
“It’s such an honor and a privilege to play this game and we’re so blessed every day that we get to go out and play in front of our great fans. So whoever we have available is going to come out and battle for our team. We still have fight, and we’re going to be ready to go. That’s what our fans deserve.”
Issues beyond Griner’s detention in Russia have plagued the team this season. In May, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi traded words and had to be separated by teammates while on the bench.
When Taurasi didn’t make the All-Star game, Nygaard praised the selection of Diggins-Smith but suggested the event wasn’t really an All-Star game without Taurasi. In response, Diggins-Smith sent out a tweet with the clip and a clown emoji that was seemingly directed at the coach.
As the trade deadline approached in July, reports emerged that the team was exploring the possibility of a trade involving Diggins-Smith.
Phoenix also agreed to a contract divorce in June with Tina Charles, who later signed with Seattle.
“I’m a strong believer that whatever adversity is thrown at me as a person, as a coach in my development, it’s all for me,” Nygaard said after Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota. “This is something that’s going to help me and make me personally better. I believe that for our team, too. Challenges and things that come to us forces us to try new things.
“I’m extremely proud to have coached this group tonight. That group that’s in the locker room, they are a tough group and they are so resilient. I don’t think anyone can imagine some of the challenges they’ve faced, but they’ve never quit. They’ve never given up.”