Cappie Pondexter may be gone, but the Mercury have upgraded their inside presence by adding Candice Dupree.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images

Season Outlook

Repeating is already one of the toughest things to do in sports, but repeating got even harder for the 2009 WNBA Champions in the offseason when they granted Cappie Pondexter her request to be traded to New York. Because of her explosive offensive skills, Pondexter was a perfect fit in the the Mercury's lethal uptempo system. She wasn't merely Robin to Diana Taurasi's Batman, although she may have been perceived that way; she was herself a lead superhero, evidenced by the fact that she was an MVP candidate throughout 2009 and a past Finals MVP (2007). And having a pair of lead superheros propelled Phoenix to two WNBA championships in three seasons.

The Mercury must now face life without Pondexter though. Helping the transition process a lot is that Phoenix has replaced an All-Star with another All-Star. In the three-way deal that sent Pondexter to the Liberty, the Mercury received four-year veteran Candice Dupree, who had been the Chicago Sky's top scorer and rebounder since she entered the league in 2006.

As good as Dupree is, there's still the issue of fitting her into coach Corey Gaines' system. For one thing, she's a power forward where Pondexter was a shooting guard/small forward. And Dupree is most comfortable down low utilizing her array of smooth post moves, not someone looking to run and spot up for a three in transition. So does she conform to Gaines' style or does Gaines adjust his approach to get the most of out Dupree's talent? They might have to meet somewhere in the middle.

Dupree is definitely an upgrade at the power forward position over Le'coe Willingham, who signed with Seattle during the offseason. But that doesn't take anything away from the admirable job Willingham turned in for Phoenix in 2009, doing much of the dirty work while her teammates racked up points and highlights. That void will need to be filled, especially against the bigger teams in conference like Los Angeles, Seattle and San Antonio, and Dupree is the one people will look to.

Phoenix didn't add much besides Dupree, although it will have Penny Taylor from the get-go, which is a luxury they haven't had since 2007, the last time she played a full season with Phoenix. After choosing to take 2008 off to focus on the Olympics, Taylor missed the first half of last year following ankle surgery before helping guide the Mercury to the title. One of the most underrated stars in the league, Taylor is hardly a role player and shouldn't be treated as such, which is why Phoenix is capable to weather the Pondexter departure better than people assume. Just three seasons ago Taylor averaged 17.8 points per game on a team that also featured Taurasi and Pondexter.

The Mercury also have another offensive weapon in second-year standout in DeWanna Bonner, who was the 2009 Sixth Woman of the Year and runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting to Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry. More on Bonner in a minute.

Oh, and there's Taurasi, who's the best women's player on the planet right now. It's going to be hard for Taurasi to top 2009, when she captured her third scoring title, her first regular season MVP, her second WNBA championship and her first Finals MVP. But at 27, Taurasi is at the pinnacle of her prime, and she's never even hinted at being unmotivated, as she's one of the greatest winners women's basketball has ever seen. And the loss of Pondexter -- Taurasi's running mate for the past four years -- presents her with a new challenge.

Or maybe the challenge lies with Gaines, who needs to incorporate a new superstar into his rotation, move on without another, and make sure the defending champs don't lose their hunger. This would be a good spot to note that there hasn't been a repeat champion in the WNBA since 2002 (Los Angeles). Everyone will be gunning for the Mercury in 2010, and they will need to run-and-gun right back if they hope to remain on top.

Mark Bodenrader

Player on the Spot

Bonner began 2009 on fire and was a big reason why the team got off to such a great start. As the spark off the bench -- a job that would normally go to the sidelined Taylor -- the rookie out of Auburn scored in double figures in 12 games through the season's first two months while also racking up impressive numbers on the boards. But when Taylor returned, Bonner's minutes lessened and so did her production. And when the playoffs rolled around, she struggled against the bigger, more physical teams, namely the Fever and Sparks.

Bonner's sophomore campaign should tell us a lot about how her WNBA career will play out, whether she'll remain in that role as someone who comes off the bench to provide energy, or if her combination of size and versatility will allow her to grow into a consistent matchup nightmare for opponents. The latter will require some polish to her game. She still needs to develop a consistent outside shot, or else defenders will get in the habit of laying off her. She needs to be a more physical defender and not rely on her length so much.

That's not to say that Bonner isn't a great weapon for Gaines to have right now. She allows him to be creative with lineups and spell players at all positions when they either get injured, fatigued or in foul trouble.

The Mercury have more sure-thing superstars than most in Taurasi, Dupree and Taylor. If Bonner lives up to her potential, she can give the team its fourth.

Mark Bodenrader

Projected Lineup

G.Temeka Johnson
G.Diana Taurasi
F.Penny Taylor
F.Candice Dupree
C.Tangela Smith

Players Added

F.Candice Dupree
G/F.Sequoia Holmes
G.Taylor Lilley

Players Lost

G.Kelly Mazzante
G.Cappie Pondexter
F.Le'coe Willingham

2008 Leaders

PPGDiana Taurasi20.4
RPGDeWanna Bonner5.8
APGCappie Pondexter5.0
SPGDiana Taurasi1.16
BPGTangela Smith1.68

Team Stats

Points Scored92.8(1st)
Points Allowed89.1(13th)
Field-Goal Percentage.460(1st)
Opponents’ FG%.424(6th)
Rebounding Diff.-2.8(11th)