The match that lit the fire last season was All-WNBA First Team player and All-Star Diana Taurasi. She led both her team and the league in points, averaging 25.3 per game. The shooting guard also compiled 4.1 assists per game which placed her top on her team and fifth in the league.
Complementing Taurasi's outstanding offensive play was rookie teammate Cappie Pondexter. The second pick in the 2006 draft, Pondexter has lived up to the hype that surrounded her when she came out of Rutgers, averaging 19.5 ppg, good for fifth in the league, and earning a spot on the Western Conference All-Star Team.
Veteran point guard Kelly Miller will also return this season. She was third prong in the Mercury's offensive juggernaut, averaging 11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.5 apg.
NOT COMING BACK
Two 2006 starters, Kamila Vodichkova and Kristen Rasmussen, will not suit up for Phoenix in 2007. Vodichkova is out for the season due to pregnancy. Last year she averaged 9.7 ppg and led the team in rebounds with 6.7 a game. However, it is her intense defense that the Mercury will most sorely miss this season.
Rasmussen, a forward, signed a free agent deal with the Connecticut Sun in the offseason. The loss of these two players will have the Mercury hunting for a new presence in the post.
Neither Ann Strother nor Bridget Pettis will be returning for Phoenix this year. Strother was dealt to Indiana in the offseason and Pettis has retired to become an assistant with the Merc. Also, Kayte Christensen signed a free agent deal with Chicago and Sandora Irvin was traded to San Antonio. None of them saw much playing time last season, but they did provide some depth off the bench.
Joining Smith in the desert will be former Sting teammate Kelly Mazzante, who the Mercury selected with their own pick in the Dispersal Draft. A strong shooter from 3-point land, Mazzante will see plenty of minutes in the Mercury's run-and-gun offense.
Just prior to the draft, the Mercury also picked up former Liberty center Kelly Schumacher, and in the Strother trade with Indiana, the Mercury also picked up center Olympia Scott. The two veterans will add some much-needed size and strength in hopes of resolving the team's defensive inefficiencies.
Other additions include rookies Tyresa Smith, Leah Rush and Chrissy Givens, all of whom were chosen in the second and third rounds of the draft. They will most likely come off the bench and provide flexibility for Coach Westhead.
Watch out for the Phoenix Mercury. Their offense has been incredible, and there's no reason to think that's going to change, especially with scorers like Taurasi, Pondexter, Miller and Taylor. How far this squad goes will depend on Westhead's ability to get his troops to play defense. The team may need to slow down slightly on the offensive end in order to concentrate on defending. If the team can step up the D, the Mercury has a chance to rise to the top of the Western Conference.