Diana Taurasi has only played two games this season, and now after missing the first two games after the Olympics, speculation continues in Phoenix. (Photo by Kelly Kline)
Diana Taurasi has only played two games this season, and now after missing the first two games after the Olympics, speculation continues in Phoenix. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Taurasi must play -- or both she and Phoenix must pay

August 20, 2012 - 12:04pm

As the Olympians trickle back into the WNBA, some later than others, the biggest question mark is Diana Taurasi.

More than a few thought maybe her pre-Olympic injury was a bit overstated, both to allow her to be ready for London and also to position the Mercury for a shot at one of three elite players in next spring’s draft (Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, if you’ve been living under a lily pad for the past few months). That suspicion got a little more evidence when DT played more minutes than anyone else on Team USA, and played very well, for the gold-medal winners – and then there was uncertainty about when or if she would suit up for Phoenix.

Unlike all the other American players (except for the injured Asjha Jones), she didn’t play in the first WNBA game when she got back from London, and in fact didn’t even travel to Seattle, but the Mercury now say she had dental work Friday. Interesting. She couldn’t have had the dental work in the weeks she missed prior to the Olympics? Or maybe she broke a tooth on some fish and chips …

The official word is that she’s supposed to play later this week, and she better. After all, there are 13 games left in the season, a season for which she is being paid close to $100,000. To this point, she has played two games, and just to be fair, let’s say she was legitimately hurt for the 16 games prior to the break.

She has now missed two games after the break, for dental work, which again, could be legit. (Josh Reddick, a starting Oakland A’s outfielder, has been bothered by dental work for a week, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.) But hey, we’re done with that. The next game is Thursday, and Taurasi will have had 11 days since the gold medal game to get over whatever traumas she suffered in London – and there is absolutely no reason she shouldn’t play.

The conspiracy folks believe Phoenix management wants to lose to guarantee a place in the lottery, and even if that’s a given (which it is), more losses mean a better chance at Griner or Delle Donne. It is possible that the Mercury ownership wants to roll over, but there are eight home games left. Let’s assume the average Mercury revenue per person in the stands is $25 (ticket price plus ancillary income), and let’s assume that Taurasi is worth 200 ticket sales a game. That’s $5,000 a night, which is $40,000 for the season, which is pretty much the cost of one of the 11 players on the roster.

Maybe the Mercury would only get $20,000, and maybe ownership is convinced that increasing the odds in postseason is worth that loss of here-and-now money, but I find it hard to credit. And if the Mercury owners don’t want Taurasi to play, what about the five teams that will host Phoenix? That number includes Connecticut and L.A. (Taurasi’s home town), and those two franchises would definitely lose some income if she sits out.

Of course, maybe Taurasi just doesn’t want to play, and wants to save herself for Europe. If so, that’s even worse than if the Mercury management wanted her to sit, because at least the Phoenix ownership would be trying to make the team better next year. Taurasi would just be taking a paid vacation, and hurting the WNBA along the way (she is, after all, one of the best and most interesting players in the world).

To recap:

1) Taurasi may have been hurt, but she isn’t now;

2) Her teeth are sparkly white;

3) Phoenix has nothing to lose but money; and

4) Taurasi is getting paid a lot of money in a league that needs her to be on the court as often as possible.

If she doesn’t play the rest of the way, barring an injury that requires surgery, the WNBA must suck it up and at the least, fine both her and Phoenix. There is such a thing as integrity, and Taurasi sitting on the bench would display a complete lack of it. Neither Taurasi or the Mercury should be allowed to get away with a complete lack of respect for the fans, the league and the game, and should get much, much more than a slap on the wrist if her 2012 WNBA season amounts to just two games.


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