The Phoenix Mercury won more games last season than any team in WNBA history en route to their third championship.
Not having Diana Taurasi, however, will make their title defense considerably tougher.
Brittney Griner will also miss a significant portion of the early season, and the Mercury will try to overcome those absences beginning Friday night against the San Antonio Stars.
Taurasi, the league’s second all-time leading scorer, has chosen to take her Russian league team’s offer to pay her to rest. She makes around $1.5 million playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg and a little more than $108,000 with the Mercury.
"The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down," Taurasi said in a letter to Phoenix fans before this season. "They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing."
Griner will miss the first seven games after her April 22 arrest for a domestic violence incident involving then-fiancee and Tulsa forward Glory Johnson, who was also suspended seven games. The two were married May 8.
Griner, who has averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in her two seasons, chose not to appeal the penalty despite the insistence from players around the league.
"I understand there are consequences for your actions," she said after the Mercury opened training camp May 18. "I accept those consequences and I’m not going to fight it."
Griner, who also has to take part in counseling, is eligible to return June 27 against Minnesota, the team that will likely challenge Phoenix in the Western Conference.
"We’ve just got to keep our head above water those first seven games," coach Sandy Brondello said. "(Then) you add a player the caliber of B.G. back into the mix, I think we’re going to be very good."
Without Taurasi and Griner, Candice Dupree (14.5 points per game) and DeWanna Bonner (10.4) are the top returning scorers for a club that went 29-5 last year. Phoenix added veterans Monique Currie, who averaged 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds for Washington last season, and Shameka Christon.
The Stars are also set to play without another one of the league’s all-time leading scorers, Becky Hammon, who retired after the 2014 season and is now an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs.
"We’re losing (Hammon), who was just a phenomenal player for us, but what you’ll find in 2015 is a team whose core is now in its 20s. They’ve developed with us in each of the steps to take on that mantle," coach Dan Hughes said.
Kayla McBride (13.0 ppg) is the top returning scorer but reportedly had right foot surgery in late February. Danielle Robinson (12.9) and Jia Perkins (12.5) were the other top scorers in 2014 for San Antonio, which finished third in the West at 16-18 and was swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the Lynx.
The Stars also took Dearica Hamby with the sixth pick in this year’s draft. The forward averaged 21.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in her final two seasons at Wake Forest.