Taurasi to skip WNBA season; Russia offers money to rest
PHOENIX (AP) The toll of playing year-round basketball finally caught up with Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi.
Less than a year after leading the Mercury to their third WNBA title, Taurasi announced Tuesday that she will skip the WNBA season this summer after accepting a lucrative offer from her Russian club team to rest.
Taurasi said she will return for the 2016 WNBA season.
''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 sent to Mercury fans. ''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.''
Like most top players in the WNBA, Taurasi has spent her offseasons playing overseas, where the pay is significantly higher than what they can earn in the U.S.
The salary for a four-month WNBA summer season ranges from about $45,000 for rookies to $108,000 for veterans such as Taurasi. Top Americans who play overseas in the winter can earn as much as $2 million.
Taurasi has been one of the WNBA's most popular players since the Mercury selected her out of Connecticut with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 WNBA draft.
The 33-year-old was one of the league's best players in 2014, averaging 16.2 points, 5.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds while earning her seventh All-Star nod. She also led the Mercury to their third championship and was selected MVP of the WNBA Finals.
''I think foremost I totally understand and respect her decision to take a rest,'' WNBA President Laurel J. Richie said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''She's been playing at an incredibly high level for 10 years so I understand and appreciate that.''
Taurasi started playing in Russia in 2005-06, had two years in the Turkish league and spent the past two offseasons playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Like many players, the demands of playing year-round have taken a toll on Taurasi, who also has won three Olympic gold medals. She was limited to eight games because of injuries in 2012 and has battled a variety of injuries over the years.
''An athlete's career is finite, and we support any choice Diana makes in her own best interest and which has the potential to prolong her career,'' Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said in a statement. ''We know how much Diana cares about the Mercury organization, team and fans.''
Taurasi has made the WNBA's first-team eight times and is a five-time scoring champion. She was the league MVP in 2009 and was the first player in WNBA history to lead the league in scoring one season and assists the next.
Taurasi has spent her entire 11-year WNBA career with the Mercury, also leading them to league championships in 2007 and 2009.
Last season, she was part of a star-studded Mercury lineup that included 2013 WNBA rookie of the year Brittney Griner, All-Star Candice Dupree and three-time WNBA sixth woman of the year DeWanna Bonner.
Phoenix swept Chicago in three games in the WNBA Finals despite playing without Griner in Game 3 because of an eye injury.
''We understand Diana's choice not to play this season, a decision that undoubtedly will extend her career and will benefit the Mercury in the future,'' Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. ''Obviously it is hard to replace someone of her caliber, but we are confident in our other key personnel on our roster continuing their development and rising to the challenge.''
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.