The Phoenix Mercury are equipped with the greatest player of all-time alongside one of the most elite defensive presences the league has ever seen. But that duo is becoming a Big Three in The Valley as the Mercury pulled off a league-altering move by acquiring four-time All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith.A transaction of this magnitude doesn’t just happen overnight, as the organization caught wind of Diggins-Smith potentially leaving Dallas and began developing a plan to get her to Phoenix.
“When Skylar expressed publicly her wish to play elsewhere, we knew that this was the kind of player we wanted,” Head Coach Sandy Brondello said.
Once Mercury brass realized that pairing Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner with Diggins-Smith was a possibility, General Manager Jim Pitman marked it as the team’s top priority heading into free agency.
“We’ve always liked her,” Pitman said. “So, as that progressed here over the last few weeks, she became our number one target…We always try to go after the people that we think fit the best in our organization, with what we’re trying to do on the court as well as off the court. Skylar just checked all those boxes for us.”
Pitman approached the situation with a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality as he, Brondello and Taurasi teamed up to meet with Diggins-Smith. After receiving permission to speak to her and her agent, Pitman and Brondello flew out to meet Taurasi and Diggins-Smith in Connecticut with Team USA in order to present their pitch to the coveted free agent.
“We set up a meeting for the morning of the first day of the negotiating period,” Pitman said. “We had a chance to do a full digital video presentation for her that our folks had put together. It was really good and really powerful with Diana and Sandy and myself.”
The key pitch was focused around the family atmosphere within the Mercury organization, especially the support they are able to provide to a new mother such as Diggins-Smith.
“She obviously came away thinking that Phoenix was a good place for her to be because what we bring as a family,” Pitman said. “That’s what the Phoenix Mercury is about. It’s about our family. Our players and their families are part of our family and that’s really important to us in our culture.”
With the General Manager, Head Coach and 13-time All-WNBA superstar in the room, each were able to provide a different perspective of the organization and ultimately share with Diggins-Smith a thorough look at the opportunity in front of her.
“Having a three-pronged attack was beneficial,” Brondello said. “Diana was able to give her perspective as a player in our organization of how much she loves Phoenix. Jim gave a great presentation put together by (Mercury Chief Operating Officer) Vince Kozar and his team, illustrating all of the key components we wanted to sell to her: Championships, Big 3 with Diana and BG, family values, X-factor, off-court opportunities, etc. I was able to talk about the team, her role and the kind of players we wanted to help us.”
The Mercury were also able to provide Diggins-Smith with amenities that other organizations couldn’t, such as a new, state-of-the-art training facility and an integrated Suns/Mercury training staff.
“She asked some really good questions, but it was more about us just telling her what our culture was like, what our team was like, what our organization was like,” Pitman said. “The things that we have in our organization, like a new training facility, an integrated training staff with the Suns, and how the Suns and Mercury work together as a cohesive group was something that she was really excited about.”
But when it was all said and done, family was the winning factor.
“As a new mother, what we had done last year with our family room was something that she had heard about,” Pitman said. “She was genuinely excited about that because obviously with a new child, having the child cared for in a professional manner while you’re doing your job is really important. I think that was something that resonated with her as well as the city of Phoenix.”
Taurasi is clearly one of the most iconic players to ever wear a basketball jersey and her dedication to the organization and the city of Phoenix was critical in the process of signing her new teammate.
“It was huge,” Pitman said. “Diana is a good closer on the court and equally good off the court. I think Diana was someone that Skylar had always admired and to have her sitting there across the table from her was meaningful. Diana to take the time to be involved and their discussions about play and leadership and all that were really important in getting this to the finish line.”
“She became our number one target…We always try to go after the people that we think fit the best in our organization, with what we’re trying to do on the court as well as off the court. Skylar just checked all those boxes for us.”
– GM Jim Pitman
Brondello is excited to have the opportunity to coach Diggins-Smith with the dynamic elements that she will be able to bring to the court next to Taurasi.
“Skylar brings so much at both ends of the floor,” Brondello said. “Her speed, toughness, play-making and pick and roll ability, three-point shooting and defense makes her a great addition. But the biggest thing is she is a winner. Her will to win reminds me very much of Diana.”
Those two, teamed up with Griner, arm the Mercury with a three-headed monster that will be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams on a nightly basis.
“I think it’s going to be great,” Pitman said. “The more playmakers and ball handlers that you can have playing at the same time, the better off you are, especially when you’re trying to surround an All-Star center. You want to have those types of players on the perimeter that can either knock down the three or drive and create for others. The more players like that the better off your team is.”
Next step? Getting the trio on the court in preparation for Fry’s Food Stores Opening Night on Sunday, May 17 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“I can’t wait,” Pitman said. “May 17th can’t get here soon enough. I look forward to watching the team progress, but we’re not done yet. There are still some things to accomplish here in free agency, but we’re looking forward to the beginning of the season, for sure.”
Tickets for Fry’s Food Stores Opening Night on Sunday, May 17, can be purchased by calling 602.252.WNBA or by visiting Ticketmaster.