Advertisement

Brittney Griner stays in Phoenix on 1-year, $150K deal

Griner committed to staying in the Valley after her wrongful detainment

Brittney Griner is staying in Phoenix.

Griner has signed a new deal to stay with the Mercury, the league announced. According to Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats, it's a one-year protected deal worth $150,000. The unrestricted free agent told reporters in her exit meeting after the 2023 season she had no intention of playing anywhere else.

"Phoenix is home," Griner said. "Me and my wife literally just got a place [here]. This is it."

Griner has been a fixture with the Mercury since the franchise drafted her No. 1 overall in 2013. The 2024 WNBA season will be her 11th and the second since she returned from a 10-month wrongful detention in Russia. She helped lead Phoenix to the 2014 WNBA title and finished second in MVP voting in 2019 and 2021.

The Mercury missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2012 after a 9-31 campaign in which they were bottom two in both offensive and defensive rating. They parted with their head coach a quarter of the way into the season and hired former Orlando Magic assistant Nate Tibbetts in October.

Griner’s return from wrongful detainment

Griner’s return to the WNBA was a welcomed celebration last May. After returning to the United States in December, she signed a one-year $165,100 deal with Phoenix as an unrestricted free agent. It was a discount of the maximum to open salary cap space.

When she left the U.S. in February 2022 to return to her Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg team, she was a strong MVP candidate expected to take the Mercury back to the Finals. She returned having endured Russian prisons and a verdict of nearly 10 years in jail. The former Baylor star had not touched a basketball in nearly a year, opting not to have one while she was detained because it was too difficult.

Her 2023 season went better than any could have expected after such an ordeal. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 17.5 points (nearly her career average), 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. Her 22.9 points per 36 minutes was slightly better than in 2021 and ranked second in her career.

Griner appeared in her ninth All-Star Game and improved as the season progressed. She will be on watch for MVP and All-WNBA accolades in 2024 with a full offseason to stay in shape and train.

For the first time, she did not go overseas to play as many stars in the league do and has said she will not play in another country again unless it is for Team USA. She rejoined the national team last year and could star at the Paris Olympic Games this summer, where the team is going for its eighth gold medal. Griner won gold with the 2016 and 2021 teams.

Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner is returning to Phoenix in free agency. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images) (Steph Chambers via Getty Images)

What Griner’s signing means for Mercury

Griner is the foundation for the Mercury as a key offensive contributor with one of the most efficient 2-point shooting clips in league history and a menace on defense patrolling the rim. She is also a stalwart, larger-than-life fixture for the franchise with a close relationship to team personnel, particularly while she was detained.

The Mercury made a splash in free agency by signing point guard Natasha Cloud, who won the 2019 championship with the Washington Mystics, and trading for Kahleah Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP for the Chicago Sky. They also acquired Rebecca Allen in a sign-and-trade with the Connecticut Sun. Phoenix gave up its No. 3 pick in the draft as well as forwards Michaela Onyenwere and Brianna Turner in the trade for Copper. The Mercury's only draft picks are in the third round.

It adds key backcourt weapon to pair with with veteran guard Diana Taurasi, who is signed through the 2024 season and said she plans to return. Taurasi, who became the WNBA’s fist 10,000-point scorer last year, has not been been fully healthy in recent seasons and is close to retirement. The franchise has been in a win-now mentality for the last handful of seasons while trying to get her a final ring. The additions turn them from bottom-of-the-standings to title contenders.

The Mercury have had a rough couple of years after reaching the 2021 WNBA Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Sky. They parted ways with longtime head coach Sandy Brondello months later and fired first-time head coach Vanessa Nygaard 12 games into her second year. She was 17-31 as Phoenix’s head coach. Griner’s detainment was a cloud over their 2022 season, and Skylar Diggins-Smith publicly called out Nygaard as a clown shortly after tensions on the bench with teammates surfaced. Diggins-Smith signed with the Seattle Storm in free agency.