A lot has changed since Brittney Griner last played for the Phoenix Mercury.
Griner was the runner-up in the season MVP voting when the Mercury lost to the Chicago Sky in the 2021 WNBA Finals.
Griner then missed the 2022 season while detained in a Russian prison for nearly 10 months on drug-related charges. Without her, the Mercury finished 15-21 and lost to the Las Vegas Aces in the first round of the playoffs.
Now Griner, released in a prisoner swap in December, hopes to regain her 2021 form and the Mercury hope to become title contenders again as they open the season Friday night against the Sparks in Los Angeles.
“We were never really allowed to find joy (last season),” Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “Her return brings joy.”
Griner, 32, had 10 points and three rebounds in her only preseason performance, which was against the Sparks on May 12.
“Coach keeps telling me to give myself grace,” Griner said. “But that’s hard.”
Griner reunites with WNBA all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi, who’s back for a 19th season and will turn 41 next month. But the Mercury begin the season without Skylar Diggins-Smith, who’s on maternity leave.
The Sparks re-signed Nneka and Chiney Ogumike and hope former Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller can help them improve on a disappointing 13-23 record that kept them out of the playoffs for a second straight season in 2022.
They added Azura Stevens from Chicago, Jasmine Thomas from the Sun and Dearica Hamby from the Aces.
Hamby, 29, who made workplace misconduct allegations against the Aces during her recent pregnancy that the WNBA substantiated on Tuesday, gave birth to her second child in March and said she plans to play Friday.
“I told (Miller) to hold me to the same standard you would if I was fully healthy or not recovering from pregnancy,” Hamby said. “I work hard and I think that will speak for itself.”
–Field Level Media