NBA talk aside, game-changer Brittney Griner the all-but-certain top pick as Mercury attempt to rise.
By RANDY HILL FS Arizona
Despite a spike in excitement, the actual drama has been reduced to 0.1 percent.
And even that may be iffy.
“I’d say we’re 99.9 percent sure of what we’re going to do,” Phoenix Mercury coach/general manager Corey Gaines said when asked if the franchise has made a decision on which player to select with the first pick in Monday’s WNBA Draft.
Since Mercury marketing has reminded fans that “the draft may be big, but our pick is
huge,” and tower of power Brittney Griner checks in at 6-foot-8, the Baylor star probably could have secured housing in the Phoenix area a long time ago.
“I think we have a good sense of what we’re going to do,” said Gaines, who – with two WNBA championships on his resume – presided over the Mercury through an injury-riddled, lottery-bound season.
With Penny Taylor missing the season due to injury and superstar guard Diana Taurasi combining with Candice Dupree to participate in a health-limited 21 games, the atypically struggling Mercury now find themselves in a position to land a player with the potential to be the most dominant (at least on the interior) in league history.
Although Griner has the size, mobility and motor to impact the women’s game at an unprecedented level, the WNBA’s draft pool also includes celebrated Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins and prolific-scoring Delaware forward Elena Delle Donne. In most seasons, it has been posited, either player would draw strong consideration as the overall No. 1 choice.
But Griner’s game-changing presence has generated so much national buzz that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was inspired to suggest his team might consider choosing Brittney if she’s the best player available when the Mavs pick in the second round. Those who follow the NBA chuckle at the notion of Griner legitimately falling into that category, but Cuban admitted that the marketing potential has some appeal.
After Baylor was unexpectedly bounced from the women's NCAA tournament last week, Griner – who confirmed her WNBA commitment – said she’d like to give the NBA a try, as well.
With all of this probably amounting to little more than catnip for sports-talk shows, it won’t scare off the Mercury from taking Griner ... even without the level of vetting that men who follow basketball are used to.
Unlike the NBA, which has a couple of months of seemingly inclusive workouts and other forms of evaluation, the WNBA must conduct its draft less than a week after the NCAA crowns a champion.
“I wish we could,” Gaines said when asked if more due diligence would be beneficial to the process. “The NBA is better in that regard. We basically have to go off what they do in college games.”
Based on the head-scratching moves made by NBA personnel executives, sometimes less is more.
Although Gaines does spend considerable time with Mercury management in contemplation of roster moves and team preparation, he also is busy helping the Phoenix Suns as an assistant coach focusing on player development.
But Phoenix does have an exceptional resource in team vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale, one of the greatest players in basketball history. Meyers Drysdale, who participated in Indiana Pacers training camp in 1979, has the chops to help Griner navigate her playing future in many areas.
“I think we have a lot of that covered with Ann,” Gaines said in regard to acquiring inside knowledge of draft prospects. “She’s very connected to college basketball and stays in touch with everybody. She certainly knows all of those people.”
When asked for an opinion on the potential for greatness in this particular WNBA draft class, Gaines said judging its value requires waiting for actual results.
“We’ll just have to see how it plays out,” he said. “I think the greatest (draft) classes can be measured by how many WNBA championships are won, how many Olympic gold medals ... world championships.”
As for Griner’s potential interest in taking a shot at the NBA, Gaines was diplomatic.
“It’s an honor for her either way,” he said.
Having spent four seasons at Baylor, Griner does not quality as an early-entry prospect and can be selected by an NBA team without declaring for the draft’s inclusion. But any notion of spending time on the Mavericks’ summer league team seems crushed by what will be a commitment to an WNBA season that runs concurrently.
And in the spirit of not having to go out on a limb regarding where Griner will be working, let’s predict a 99.9 percent certainly that she’ll have warm weather.