Reigning MVP Taurasi re-signs with Mercury

PHOENIX (AP) — Reigning WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi has signed a multiyear contract extension with the Phoenix Mercury, ending speculation that she will take next season off.

Wearing down from playing nonstop for seven years, Taurasi had considered taking the 2011 WNBA season off and only playing overseas, where she makes about five times as much money.

The five-time All-Star and two-time WNBA champion decided to stick around in hopes of winning another championship, allowing the league to keep one of its most recognizable stars.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though the Mercury said it was structured to give the team flexibility to sign other players.

“My intention is to win a lot of championships in Phoenix,” Taurasi said. “I’m happy to have this contract signed so we can focus on the playoffs and winning another title. We have a great nucleus of players to make a run at the championship this year and I am satisfied knowing the contract we’ve put together will give us the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities in the offseason.”

Since joining the WNBA after leading Connecticut to three national championships, Taurasi has split time between playing in Russia and the U.S., and this year she’s signed to play in Greece. Combined with her commitments to the U.S. national team, she gets about two weeks off from basketball every year.

Taurasi is still one of the WNBA’s most dynamic players, but has battled injuries the past couple of years, including a nagging back injury this season. Had she opted to sit out next season, the WNBA would have taken a big blow, losing one of its most marketable stars and a player who led the Mercury to two of the past three titles.

“We are obviously excited about re-signing Diana,” Mercury president and general manager Ann Meyers Drysdale said. “Since joining us in 2004 she has helped lead this franchise to a new standard of excellence. Her decision to make personal sacrifices and structure a contract that allows us the flexibility to add other veteran players through free agency if the opportunity arises speaks volumes about her commitment to winning championships with the Phoenix Mercury.”

Taurasi led the WNBA in scoring for a league-record fourth straight year, scoring 22.6 points per game. She’s also picked up her assist numbers, averaging 4.7 while leading the Mercury into the playoffs, starting Thursday in a best-of-three series against San Antonio.

“When you have a player like Diana on your team, you are always in a position to compete for championships,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. “She is a proven winner on the college level, the international level and of course in the WNBA, and she is a proven team player. You don’t find this kind of unselfishness in many superstars.”