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The 28th WNBA season starts tonight, and one of the week's most anticipated games will be played without two of its biggest stars. 

Phoenix center Brittney Griner and Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray are currently both sidelined with injuries, unfortunately missing out on the head-to-head clash that officially kicks off the 2024 season.

Griner is out with a left foot toe fracture, the Mercury announced on Monday. She’ll be out for an unspecified amount of time, and will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks. 

The 6-foot-9 starter is a major loss for Phoenix, as she added some much needed size to the guard-heavy roster. The team is scheduled to play eight games throughout the month of May, including two against defending champs Las Vegas along with a road game against the stacked New York Liberty. 

Gray, meanwhile, has been ruled out for the Aces’ season opener. She injured her foot during the WNBA Finals last season and spent much of training camp rehabbing the lingering knock. The former Finals MVP recently signed a contract extension with Las Vegas.

"We'll be reevaluating her daily, but also probably in a couple of weeks," head coach Becky Hammon said. "She's a little dinged up right now, so we'll take that one step at a time."

The Aces square off against the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday at 10 PM ET.

Charter flights are on the horizon for the WNBA, with commissioner Cathy Engelbert saying on Tuesday that the league will provide teams with full-time private travel services beginning as soon as this season. 

The move is set to address years of player safety concerns, among other issues. Engelbert told AP Sports Editors that the league aims to launch the program "as soon as we can logistically get planes in place."

The initiative is projected to cost around $25 million per year over the next two seasons.

The WNBA has previously provided charter flights on a limited basis, including during the postseason and when teams were scheduled to play back-to-back regular season games. Individual owners seeking to independently provide their teams with private travel — such as the New York Liberty’s Joe and Clara Wu Tsai back in 2022 — faced significant fines for using unauthorized charters.

While players and team staff have been calling for league-wide charters even before Caitlin Clark and other high profile rookies joined the league, Engelbert has routinely cited steep year-to-year costs as the reasoning behind sticking to commercial flights. 

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However, the WNBA's surging popularity means increased visibility, and a subsequent uptick in security concerns — especially when it comes to big name newcomers like Clark — has Englebert reconsidering her previous decision. 

WNBA Players Association president Nneka Ogwumike called the move "transformational," and credited the WNBPA as well as the league for its implementation. 

"Our league is growing, the demand for women's basketball is growing," Ogwumike told ESPN. "That means more eyes on us, which is what we want, but that means more protection from the organization that we play for, the whole W that we play for.

"Chartering flights not only is a safety measure, the biggest thing, and then obviously what it means to be able to play a game and go home and rest and recover and be the elite athletes that we try to be every single night when we step out onto this court."

Aces coach Becky Hammon called the immediate response to the charter announcement "great" but noted that there are still kinks to be worked out. 

"What it all looks like, we’re still gathering information, we don’t know," she said Tuesday.

Several players emphasized the importance of safety, highlighting how last season the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner was harassed in an airport while traveling commercial.

"All these players and these faces are becoming so popular that it really is about that as much as it as about recovery," Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said.

"Above everything else, I think it's the safety of our players," Mercury player Natasha Cloud added. "We have a prime example with BG on our team that needs to be safe. At airports, it's like a madhouse. You see Caitlin Clark walking through airports, people following her, people trying to touch her, get pictures with her. It's just a safety measure, through and through. You would never have an NBA team walk through an airport."

Prior to Tuesday's announcement, the league had said it would charter flights for the playoffs and back-to-back games via a program introduced last year. The latest news, however, promises that teams will also be provided charters to and from all regular season games.

"Our safety is being taken seriously now, finally. In no world should our security not be a priority," Griner told ESPN. "If we want to be the league that we want to be and have the respect that we have, it comes with some risks. Sometimes people want to get close to you and it's not people you want, so I'm just glad that we don't have to deal with that anymore."

The Phoenix Mercury center spoke with Robin Roberts about her 10-month incarceration, reflecting on her poor living conditions and shaky mental state ahead of her May 7th memoir.

"The mattress had a huge blood stain on it. I had no soap, no toilet paper," Griner told the ABC News anchor in last night’s 20/20 special. "That was the moment where I just felt less than a human." 

She also detailed some of her lowest moments during that time, saying with tears in her eyes that she went so far as to consider taking her own life on more than one occasion. However, the thought of Russian officials not releasing her body back to her family made her reconsider.

"I just didn't think I could get through what I needed to get through," said Griner.

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In February 2022, Griner was arrested and charged with drug possession and smuggling by a Russian court after Sheremetyevo International Airport police found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. The cartridges were prescribed by Griner’s doctor for chronic pain back in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal. In the interview, the two-time Olympic gold medalist said she had a "mental lapse" while packing, and never intended to bring the cannabis products with her when she returned to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg.

"It's just so easy to have a mental lapse," Griner said. "Granted, my mental lapse was on a more grand scale. But it doesn't take away from how that can happen." 

She was later sentenced to nine years behind bars after her Russian attorneys advised her to plead guilty the following July. Griner was then sent to a remote penal colony where she was forced to spend her days cutting cloth to make military uniforms. From there, it only got worse.

"Honestly, it just had to happen," she said when asked about her decision to cut off her signature long locks. "We had spiders above my bed making nests.

"My dreads started to freeze," she added. "They would just stay wet and cold and I was getting sick. You've gotta do what you've gotta do to survive."

Shortly after Griner’s initial arrest, the U.S. State Department classified her case as wrongfully detained, escalating its urgency within the government and calling even more attention to the situation. On December 8th, she was freed in a prisoner exchange negotiated by the Biden administration.

While she told Roberts she was "thrilled" when she got the news, she was also very upset about having to leave fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan behind. She also continues to carry guilt about her arrest, saying "At the end of the day, it's my fault. And I let everybody down."

Griner’s memoir, Coming Home, hits shelves on May 7th.

"Coming Home begins in a land where my roots developed and is the diary of my heartaches and regrets," Griner told ABC News in an exclusive statement. "But, ultimately, the book is also a story of how my family, my faith, and the support of millions who rallied for my rescue helped me endure a nightmare."

Brittney Griner’s number will finally hang in the rafters at Baylor University, with the school announcing Monday that they will retire her No. 42 on Feb. 18.

The Phoenix Mercury star, who was also the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, twice led Baylor to the Final Four during her college career. She helped lead the team to a perfect 40-0 national championship season during her junior year and left as one of the most decorated athletes in school history.

Professionally, Griner is a 10-year WNBA veteran with the Mercury, where she won the 2014 WNBA title. She’s also won two Olympic gold medals.

A Houston native, she played at Baylor from 2009 to 2013. She still holds the NCAA record for blocked shots (748). She also sat at No. 4 on the career scoring list with 3,283 points up until recently, when she was surpassed by Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.

“I’m honored to return home to Baylor and celebrate where so much of my journey started,” Griner said Monday in a statement. “I’m grateful to Coach Nicki [Collen] and the entire Baylor community and am looking forward to the opportunity to be back on campus, spend time with the team and have my family beside me to share in this incredible moment. Sic ’em Bears.”

A reportedly strained relationship with former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey had previously hung over the question as to why Griner’s jersey had yet to be retired. In the time since she played at Baylor, the numbers of Odyssey Sims, Melissa Jones and Nina Davis have all been retired.

Mulkey, during her time at Baylor, said that it was a requirement for a player to have graduated in order for their jersey to be retired. Griner finished her degree at Baylor in 2019.

Mulkey left the Bears in 2021 to take over at LSU. Nicki Collen, who took over, said that it was one of her goals to get Griner’s number retired. Hopes that it would happen during the 2021-22 season were overshadowed by Griner’s imprisonment in Russia.

Griner was released in December 2022, and returned to the WNBA in 2023. When Griner and Phoenix played at Dallas last June, Collen and the entire Baylor women’s program attended the game.

At the time, Collen reiterated her and the program’s commitment to honoring Griner.

“I have been saying this since I arrived at Baylor that she deserves to have her jersey retired and I wanted to make sure that happened when the timing was right,” Collen said in a statement. “With the opening of Foster Pavilion, and the WNBA offseason fitting into our season, this seemed like the right time to honor Brittney and welcome her back home.

“She is one of the best basketball players in Baylor’s history, and we’re thrilled that the time has come to celebrate Brittney and all of her accomplishments.”

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark moved into fourth place on the NCAA women’s basketball career scoring list on Tuesday, passing former Baylor standout Brittney Griner.

Clark scored a game-high 32 points and a team-high six 3-pointers in No. 2 Iowa’s 96-50 win over Wisconsin. She now has 3,306 total points for her career. She entered the game with 3,274 points and needed just 10 to pass Griner.

“It’s just hard for me to wrap my head around,” Clark said postgame when asked about her impact on the sport. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment and enjoy every single second of it. We understand how special and cool it is – what we’re doing for the game and for the state of Iowa and really for people around the country.

“It just shows how much the women’s game is starting to grow and how many people are starting to fall in love with it, especially our team.”

In her career at Iowa, Clark has scored in double digits in every game except one, a game against Northwestern her freshman year.

Next on the scoring list is Jackie Stiles, who had 3,393 points for Missouri State from 1997 to 2001. After that is Kelsey Mitchell (3,402) before Plum, who holds the record with 3,527 points during her time at Washington.

With an average of 31 points per game, Clark could overtake Plum as early as the second or third week of February. Iowa next plays No. 18 Ohio State on Sunday on the road.

“We know we’re going to have our hands full there, breaking the press and taking care of the ball,” Clark said. “But also, there’s so many weapons on the floor, being able to guard at all five positions is key for us.”

A new tell-all about the circumstances surrounding Brittney Griner’s detainment and arrest in Russia was released by ESPN on Friday, with Courtney Vandersloot revealing new details about the circumstances surrounding her teammate’s arrest and the immediate aftermath.

Griner declined to be interviewed in the article, although ESPN’s TJ Quinn spoke with a number of people close to the Phoenix Mercury star, including Vandersloot.

Following Griner’s arrest on Feb. 17, Griner’s Ekaterinburg teammates reported for practice on the 18th. Griner was absent, which wasn’t odd at first.

“It wouldn’t have been the first time that someone came late,” Vandersloot, who was Griner’s teammate in Russia for four seasons, told ESPN. “We all talked about it like, ‘OK, BG’s not here. We’ll see her tomorrow or the next day.'”

Both Vandersloot and her teammates said they were aware of rising tensions between the US and Russia, but felt safe returning to play in Russia because of the relationship between team owners and the Kremlin.

“We’re all hearing it because we’re reading American news and Western news in general, that Europeans are just as concerned, but whenever we brought it up to Russians, it was like, ‘Oh, this is normal. They’re always threatening this. You don’t understand, we’ve been living like this for 10 years,'” Vandersloot said. “It’s constantly, ‘We’re about to go to war.’ They were always downplaying it.”

Griner’s initial absence from practice wasn’t cause for alarm. Jonquel Jones, Griner’s closest friend on the team, didn’t know what was happening, but did tell teammates that Griner wasn’t responding to her. Vandersloot, as well as her wife and teammate Allie Quigley, was convinced that something was going on when it became clear that Griner wasn’t responding to any of her teammate’s texts.

“Allie asked [Griner’s] translator, ‘Where is BG?’ And she was really uncomfortable,” Vandersloot said. “You just knew something was up and she was just kind of trying to play it off.”

Five days later, on Feb. 23, the team was informed of Griner’s arrest by general manager Maxim Rybakov.

“He started the meeting with, like, ‘We have some serious issues to discuss.’ So we knew it was big and it probably had to do with BG,” Vandersloot said. “His face — he looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

“He said, ‘We wanted you guys to all know that she’s been arrested for drugs.’ I feel like he even said, ‘a big amount of drugs.’ It was like a punch to the stomach. We all were like, we could throw up at any time as soon as we heard. I was like, no. No way. There has to be a mistake.”

Vandersloot said she was “so worried” about Griner being in jail, and couldn’t explain the feelings she was having. The team also had to go out and play a game right after being told.

“I can’t even explain the feeling I had in my stomach after that because I was so worried about BG being in jail,” she said. “I couldn’t even grasp that — how scared she must be, how lonely she must be. Those were the conversations we were having — I can’t believe that she’s in there. Now we have to go freaking play a game? You think we care about this game? All we’re worried about was our teammate, our friend. I remember not paying attention to the damn game at all.”

The assumption was that Griner would be released soon, that she “was a phone call away from being released.” Griner was especially popular in Russia. One teammate, Yevgenia Belyakova, noted that “everyone loves her.”

Of course, the reality was much different. It took almost a year for Griner to be released from Russian detainment.

Players on the team were told Griner was arrested for a “big amount of drugs.” But when Griner’s American teammates found out the true amount – which was no more than two vape cartridges – it was a relief.

Still, there was tension between the Russians and the Americans on the team, who didn’t understand how big of a deal drug possession was in the country.

“We were fighting against each other. I’m Russian, and I tried to explain why she really broke rules in Russia, why it is so difficult to do this,” Belyakova said. “I tried to explain to them how it works in Russia. It was me against everybody.”

“It wasn’t just her — it was all the other Russians, even the translator,” Vandersloot said. “It was almost like they were saying, ‘These are the rules,’ and we were like, ‘We don’t give a damn what the rules were.'”

Team owners also couldn’t do anything, because of the quantity of drugs.

“I remember them emphasizing this to us: ‘There’s nothing we can do because of the amount.’ I was like, I don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Vandersloot said. “Then I heard how much [the amount was] on the news. I was like, ‘Wow, this is what they were talking about? What a big amount is?’ I kind of lost confidence in their ability to impact this.”

On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. Players were then advised to leave the country. One by one, foreign players opted to leave. Vandersloot said that it was hard knowing that they were leaving Griner behind.

“Do you know how s—ty that feels? How hard it is that we’re leaving, but we’re leaving something so important to us behind?” Vandersloot said. “It was so early we thought we were going to get out and then she’d be right behind us. We knew BG would want us to get out and be safe; that was definitely a discussion. But how do we just take off and go?”

Read the full ESPN report here, on the one-year anniversary of Griner’s release.

As the 2023 WNBA playoffs begin, teams are still dealing with a number of injuries. Take the Washington Mystics, who will be without Shakira Austin for the first two games of their first-round series against the New York Liberty.

Just Women’s Sports is keeping tabs on the most notable WNBA injuries and, where possible, providing the timetable for the player’s return. This report also includes athletes who are missing the 2023 WNBA season due to pregnancy or maternity leave.

Injured WNBA players who could return this season

Shakira Austin, Washington Mystics

Second-year center Shakira Austin went down on June 25 with a hip strain. An MRI revealed that the injury doesn’t require surgery, but she missed nearly two months as a result.

Austin returned in mid-August in a win over Chicago but has remained limited in her minutes. Weeks later against the Aces, she re-injured the hip that had kept her out nearly two months. She will miss at least the first two games of the Mystics’ first-round series against the New York Liberty.

Candace Parker, Las Vegas Aces

The two-time WNBA MVP will be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a left foot fracture, the Las Vegas Aces announced in July.

Parker has been playing on the fracture all season, according to the team, but a recent consultation with doctors revealed that surgery was the best option to return to health and to avoid further injury.

After signing with Las Vegas in the offseason, Parker started the first 18 games of the season for the Aces, averaging 9.0 points per game.

WNBA players who have returned to the court

Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics

The two-time WNBA MVP injured her left ankle on July 9, but she returned on Aug. 18. The 33-year-old started this season fully healthy for the first time in almost three years after dealing with back issues that kept her sidelined for a significant amount of time.

NaLyssa Smith, Indiana Fever

A stress fracture in her left foot was expected to keep the 22-year-old forward out for at least two weeks, the Fever announced on July 11.

Smith made her returned on Aug. 8 and has been instrumental for Indiana since then, including a career-high 30 points in the team’s overtime win over Dallas on Sunday.

Layshia Clarendon, Los Angeles Sparks

Clarendon returned on July 22, appearing for the first time since June 9. A partial tear of the right plantar fascia ligament in their foot had kept Clarendon off the floor.

Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

Brittney Griner had been out since June 13 with a hip injury but made her return against the Storm on June 24, putting up 11 points and 6 rebounds through 20 minutes.

Ruthy Hebard, Chicago Sky

Hebard gave birth to her son, Xzavier Reid, in April. The Chicago Sky forward returned just 12 weeks later.

“All this has just shown me how much I love the game,” Hebard said one week before making her return on July 9. “I love being around my teammates. I just love everything about basketball. More than anything, I just want to be back.”

Aari McDonald, Atlanta Dream

The 24-year-old guard tore her labrum against the Las Vegas Aces on June 2, the Dream announced on June 6. She returned to action on July 20.

Diamond Miller, Minnesota Lynx

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft sprained her right ankle during Minnesota’s loss to the Dallas Wings on May 30. In a statement, the Lynx said Miller will “be reevaluated in the following weeks and further updates will be issued when available.” Miller scored a career-high 18 points in her return on June 27.

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury

The Mercury also went without Diana Taurasi (hamstring) through three games (all double-digit losses). Taurasi returned on June 24, playing 19 minutes and putting up 13 points and 4 rebounds against Seattle.

Injured WNBA players out for the season

Brionna Jones, Connecticut Sun

The Connecticut Sun announced on June 24 that Brionna Jones suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon in a game against the Seattle Storm on June 20 and underwent a successful surgery on June 23.

“While this is not how I envisioned this season ending for me, I am determined and ready to head into the next stage of recovery and rehab. I know I have an amazing support system behind me, and I will return on the other side of this stronger than ever,” Jones said in a statement.

Prior to the injury, Jones was first in the league in offensive rebounds (3.2/game), fifth in steals (1.8), and ninth in field goal percentage (57.1).

“We are heartbroken for Breezy. Anyone who knows her, knows she’s an amazing person, teammate and leader for our group,” said Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White.

“On the court, she has worked so hard to position herself as a cornerstone of our franchise and was playing terrific basketball. … As a team, we know we have a job to do, and we will dedicate our work toward the ultimate goal of winning a championship in a way that honors Breezy.”

Diamond DeShields, Dallas Wings

DeShields missed the regular season with a knee injury, and she remain out for the postseason.

While the 28-year-old guard appeared in a May 5 preseason game against Chicago, she did not travel for the team’s second preseason game out of precaution due to knee soreness. It’s unclear when she could make a return this season.

Rebekah Gardner, Chicago Sky

Gardner will miss the playoffs for Chicago. She missed most of the season after undergoing foot surgery for the break she sustained during a loss to the Washington Mystics on May 26.

Isabelle Harrison, Chicago Sky

The 29-year-old forward missed the season with a knee injury. The Sky revealed in May that Harrison would be out indefinitely after having surgery to repair a torn left meniscus. Harrison, who signed as a free agent with Chicago in February, has played six seasons in the WNBA.

Li Yueru, Chicago Sky

Li will miss the season with a non-WNBA injury, the Sky announced on May 18. She played for Chicago last season but missed the postseason to prepare for the 2022 World Cup with the Chinese national team.

Lou Lopez Sénéchal, Dallas Wings

The former UConn star underwent knee surgery during the first week of the season and missed the season as a result. The 25-year-old wing was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

Stephanie Talbot, Los Angeles Sparks

The 28-year-old forward signed with the Sparks in the offseason but tore her Achilles while playing for the Adelaide Lightning in Australia in February.

Kristi Toliver, Washington Mystics

The 36-year-old guard suffered a torn ACL in early September, which will sideline for the 2023 playoffs.

“I’m not going to lie: Emotionally, I’m shocked,” the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne said. “You try to do the whole thing where you want to rally for [Toliver], but we were sick. Just sick. What she’s been through with her foot, how much she’s worked to get back — and she’s feeling good. She’s talking about even next year and all those things. To see something like that happen at this point in her career, it just sucks. … She’s such a great person. So it’s brutal.”

WNBA players out due to pregnancy or childbirth

Natalie Achonwa, Minnesota Lynx

Achonwa gave birth to her first child, son Maverick, in April and missed the WNBA season on maternity leave.

Achonwa, a member of the WNBA players’ union executive committee, helped negotiate for many of the pregnancy protections and maternity benefits that were included in the league’s 2020 collective bargaining agreement.

“Previously if you were out on maternity leave you’d get fifty per cent of your base salary,” Achonwa told SportsNet.

“I will receive my full salary this year whether I’m able to make it back or not — so pending clearance from doctors and trainers and stuff like that to see if I will make it back by the end of the year — but knowing that my family will be taken care of financially while I’m out on maternity leave was huge.”

Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury

Diggins-Smith is out on maternity leave after giving birth to her second child during the WNBA offseason and her return timeline is unclear.

“I’m not really worried about snapping back,” she recently told Essence. “I just want to enjoy this time with my daughter.”

Katie Lou Samuelson, Los Angeles Sparks

Samuelson welcomed a baby girl in August, and her pregnancy kept out of the 2023 season. The 25-year-old forward averaged 9.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 29.5 minutes per game in 2022.

“Life is full of surprises and 2023 surprised us in the best way possible!” she wrote in a social media announcement of her pregnancy. “We can’t wait to welcome the newest member of our family!”

Emma Hruby and Alex Azzi contributed to this report. 

Brittney Griner has no plans to play with any WNBA team but the Phoenix Mercury.

While Griner, 32, enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, she has made it clear that she intends to stay in the place where she’s played the entirety of her 10-season WNBA career.

“Phoenix is home,” Griner said Monday at the Mercury’s final media session of the year. “Me and my wife literally just got a place [here]. This is it.”

The Mercury (9-31) finished last in the WNBA standings in 2023 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012. But Griner and fellow Mercury veteran Diana Taurasi want to stay put.

Taurasi signed a two-year deal ahead of the 2023 season, which will keep her in Phoenix through 2024. The 41-year-old guard confirmed Monday that she intends to play, putting to bed any rumors of retirement.

This season, Taurasi missed 14 games due to injuries, including the final stretch. She last played on Aug. 29. But when she played, she averaged 16.0 points and 4.6 assists.

“Sometimes you can do all the right things, offseason, in season. That doesn’t mean you’re always going to get what you want,” Taurasi said. “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 and Taurasi also both intend to make a run for the Paris Olympics next summer.

“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 going for her sixth Olympic appearance for Team USA.

The Phoenix Mercury’s playoff streak has come to an end, and now it’s time for the franchise to look to the future. The team’s run of 10 consecutive postseason appearances officially ended with a loss to the Dallas Wings on Sunday, though the outcome was expected for much of the season.

Phoenix lost 10 of 12 games to start the season before parting ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard in late June. They battled injuries, and All-Star Brittney Griner missed several games on mental health leave stemming from her 10-month detainment in Russia last year. Meanwhile, veteran guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had a career-best season in 2022-23, has been out on maternity leave.

The cards were stacked against the Mercury from the start, and they couldn’t overcome the bevy of challenges.

Interim head coach Nikki Blue said Sunday that her team would focus on winning their remaining games, despite being out of the playoffs but in the running for the top pick in the draft lottery. She also admitted that the team did not live up to the standard previously set in Phoenix.

After falling to the Atlanta Dream 94-76 on Tuesday, the Mercury have games against Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington before closing their season with two contests against first-place Las Vegas.

“It was a season that was not ideal,” said Blue, who served as an assistant coach before assuming the interim role.

Phoenix has also struggled with off-court issues this season surrounding Diggins-Smith. The six-time WNBA All-Star averaged 19.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game for the Mercury last season after helping them reach the Finals in 2021. But in 2022, Nygaard attempted to downplay rising tensions between her and Diggins-Smith over comments she made around the All-Star Game. And during a game, Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi had to be separated during a heated exchange on the bench.

This year, in early August, Diggins-Smith expressed concerns with how the Mercury have managed her maternity leave. Her comments on social media came in response to a fan who questioned why the Mercury did not wish Diggins-Smith a happy birthday on their social media accounts.

“They’re not gonna acknowledge me this year and it’s OK guys,” Diggins-Smith wrote. “We’re not affiliated unless it’s the checks….per management. I can’t even use the practice facility or any resources.”

Diggins-Smith, who gave birth to her second child earlier this year, later clarified that “resources” includes “massage therapists, chiropractor, chefs, strength and conditioning, and nutritionists.”

The Notre Dame product will be a free agent in 2024, and the recent events make it hard to envision her re-signing with Phoenix.

Meanwhile, future Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi became the first player in WNBA history to reach 10,000 career points this season. She is nearing the end of her career, though she has a year left on her contract with Phoenix and remains tight-lipped about a potential retirement.

Taurasi has been the center of Phoenix’s offense since she was drafted by the franchise in 2004. The 41-year-old is being paid $234,936 this season and next, before becoming a free agent in 2025.

The Mercury need to start looking toward the future, especially if they want to capitalize on Griner’s resurgence. She helped Phoenix to a WNBA title in 2014, and the 32-year-old can serve as a centerpiece for several more seasons if the Mercury surround her with talent.

Phoenix will be one of four teams in the lottery with a chance at earning the rights to the top draft pick in 2024, where they could select Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Cameron Brink, Angel Reese or another top college prospect. Despite being at the top of mock draft boards, all four players could come back for a fifth season due to an eligibility rule stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled their freshman seasons.

But before Phoenix turns to the draft, the organization needs to decide if Blue is the coach for the job. The former UCLA player was an assistant coach for four college programs between 2008 and 2022 before joining the Mercury staff last season.

“I hope that they’ve seen the transition that our team has made in the time that I’ve been head coach,” Blue told reporters on Sunday. “Once we get a full roster, I would like to see what we can do with that.”

Phoenix has gone 7-16 since Blue took over.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Brittney Griner came to celebrate Diana Taurasi’s 10,000-point milestone Thursday even as she takes time away from WNBA competition to take care of her mental health.

Griner donned Taurasi’s No. 3 jersey and cheered on her Phoenix Mercury teammate as Taurasi became the first player to reach 10,000 career points with a monster 42-point performance. After the game, Griner could be seen dancing behind Taurasi and mouthing, “That’s 10,000 points!” while her teammate was being interviewed.

Of course, Griner has joked with Taurasi before. Back in April, she poked fun at Taurasi’s age in her first press conference since returning from her unlawful detention in Russia in 2022. Griner, 32, and Taurasi, 41, have been teammates since the former joined Phoenix as the No. 1 overall pick in 2013.

“Playing with D — who wouldn’t want to play with a walking fossil?” Griner said with a laugh. “Ha, she’s gonna kill me. No, I’m just so glad. I was really worried. Legit, I was worried. I thought she was gonna retire on me, or I was going to miss it, and that, honestly, was killing me knowing that was a possibility.”

Griner’s exuberance in celebrating Taurasi’s milestone was a wonderful show of support by the nine-time All-Star. Griner has been putting up big performances this season herself, but she has missed the Mercury’s last three games to focus on her mental health.

The Mercury are committed to working with Griner on a timeline for her return, the team said Saturday.

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