Mercury Toast First WNBA Title

By Mark Heller,
Sept. 19, 2007

The present wasn’t all that mattered Tuesday at US Airways Center, as the Mercury paid tribute to their first WNBA championship since the league’s inception in 1997.

They gave speeches, acknowledged the paths laid down by players of yore and thanked each other for a season filled with firsts, yet hopefully not lasts.

“We’ll see you here next year,” Diana Taurasi told the crowd.

But it won’t be the same. Changes are almost assuredly coming.

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The league’s collective bargaining agreement expired this week, but WNBA commissioner Donna Orender is confident a new agreement will get done. In light of a new multi-year, multi-million dollar TV deal with ESPN, the players are pushing to see an upgrade in housing and travel accommodations, as well as expanded free agency.

If and how a new collective bargaining agreement affects the Mercury’s immediate future is unclear, but Mercury general manager Ann Meyers Drysdale has a full meal on her plate, and it can’t all leave a satisfying aftertaste.

“They’re a family and sometimes families go off in another direction,” Meyers Drysdale said. “We’ve got a great chance to do this again, but some things are going to be different.”

The Mercury face a Bermuda Triangle of basketball decisions:

The NBA is calling again, and the Mercury coach has answered.

He’s wanted in Seattle, where P.J. Carlesimo has taken over coaching the Seattle SuperSonics.

Westhead acknowledged there were conversations with the Sonics six weeks ago, though none since, but an offer is inevitable, and Westhead said it would be a few more days before he makes a decision.

“Something could happen,” he said. “… It’s not like I’ve signed on the bottom line. I’m not the presenter right now.”

That may happen shortly.

Meyers Drysdale said the team has picked up Westhead’s coaching option for 2008, as well as 2009. But because it’s the NBA, and because Westhead and Carlesimo have been friends for three decades, it may not matter.

“We feel pretty (sure) that he’s going to be gone,” Meyers Drysdale said. “I don’t think it’s an easy decision for him, but he knows what’s best for himself and his family.”

Later Tuesday she added: “I’ve got a lot of ‘I don’t know’ right now.”

The Mercury could stay inside the “family” and look to Westhead assistant Corey Gaines as a potential replacement. Gaines played for Westhead at Loyola Marymount and with the Denver Nuggets. He was also a Westhead assistant in the ABA.

The team — and perhaps, league — MVP during a month-long stretch in late June and early July, Taylor and teammate Belinda Snell are at a crossroads.

The Australian national team’s pre-Olympics schedule will likely conflict with the WNBA schedule next year. Though nothing’s been decided, Orender said last week they’re looking at following the 2004 Olympic model, in which the WNBA would take a break during the Olympics, then resume its season shortly thereafter and run through September and October.

Taylor and Snell, however, are already playing overseas this fall and are worried about the physical grind of going through Olympic training and the WNBA season.

Taylor had a career year for the Mercury with nearly 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game. She also had a pair of 30-point games in the Finals.

Taylor won’t decide until the Australian team decides on its schedule — likely not until early 2008.

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.