SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi did not consider retiring after a 16-year career before she signed a two-year contract on Monday to stay in Arizona until she turns 40.
Instead, one of the most decorated players in WNBA history was reinvigorated by her play last summer in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, which encouraged her to continue playing.
“It was one of those times in my life where it could have either broke me as a player in a lot of ways or it could have pushed me forward and forge myself to take this offseason as seriously as I’ve taken any other one,” she said Tuesday. “The bubble was big for me in a way of just proving to myself that I can still play at a high level and still contribute to this team to win a championship, which is what we’re trying to do in these next two, three years.”
It took Taurasi about 10 games in the bubble to start feeling “normal” more than a year after having surgery to repair a bulging disk in her back. Beyond recovering from that surgery, Taurasi was also dealing with a lingering hamstring injury and tendinitis.
“It was just constant, every single day trying to get a little bit better,” she said. “It seemed like at that point that I was never going to be able to feel just healthy. And it was unfortunate that there weren’t more games in the bubble.”
About midway through the 22-game schedule, Taurasi began to think, “Hey, this is what it looks like when I feel healthy. Again, these are the things I can still do.”
Despite a renewed belief in herself, Taurasi left the bubble “with really an open mind, a certain mind” about her playing future with her contract winding down.
“Throughout the whole offseason, I would let my mind wander,” she said. “But, at the end of the day, it always came back to Phoenix.”
Taurasi said two or three teams called her agent when free agency started Monday — a move that Taurasi said she has “tremendous respect” for — but it was for naught.
“I think the position that I was in and maybe, too, that people just thought we were gonna stay no matter what,” Taurasi said. “At one point I was like, really? Like, no one gives me any credit for maybe wanting to do something different? Eh, maybe they were right.”
The Mercury treated Taurasi as the top target on their free agent board, she said.
They were the first team to reach out to her in the first hour of free agency and the two sides hopped on a Zoom call to talk about the deal.
Phoenix general manager Jim Pittman and coach Sandy Brondello presented a plan for the team’s future and how Taurasi fits in that. Part of that plan doesn’t necessarily include a roster overhaul, Taurasi said. It focused more on a concerted effort on how to win another championship, which would be Taurasi’s fourth WNBA title.
“That’s kind of what I wanted to hear,” Taurasi said. “That’s where I want to get back to. I love to play basketball. I have fun doing it, but it’s always a little bit better when you win and you have that vision and that burning desire that you’re doing it to win a championship.
“They conveyed that to me and I didn’t want to go obviously anywhere else. This is where I want to end my career.”
That effort, even though it perhaps wasn’t necessary, resonated with Taurasi.
“That was a moment where you think about, well, you didn’t have to do this, because this is where I want to be,” she said. “But they made the effort to make sure to treat me like I was an unrestricted free agent, and I can go wherever I wanted. And so that told me that they were very serious about it.
“And just to think about all the time that I’ve had in Phoenix, and the memories we built, I think the program that we built, the culture. We’ve done a lot in 17 years, and I don’t think we’re done.”
Or as Taurasi put it succinctly: “I’m in a serious relationship here.”