The Phoenix Mercury sat a cool 6-12 last week when their star free-agent signing Tina Charles peaced out and took a buyout to play for the more competent and normal Seattle Storm instead. Her former teammates wished her the best in pressers, though they made their true feelings known in other ways: Sophie Cunningham, for example, yelled “Fuck Tina Charles!” in a postgame celebration huddle after the team’s first game without her. Phoenix has also rattled off three straight post-Charles wins, as if to prove some kind of point; beating the Indiana Fever twice can provide a confidence boost. But to this rubbernecker’s delight, the days of dysfunction are not quite over. A new beef entered the mix Thursday night as Skylar Diggins-Smith hit her own coach with a clown face.
The beclowned target is Vanessa Nygaard, who’s in her first season as a head coach. For reasons beyond her control, this has been a year more difficult than she would have expected when she took the job in late January. Brittney Griner, the Mercury’s best player throughout Phoenix’s last Finals run, is on trial in Russia right now. And for the last couple of years, longtime general manager Jim Pitman has taken a LeBron-style approach to roster construction, cobbling together older stars without much regard for fit or chemistry. Watching the Mercury each night certainly makes you appreciate the yeoman’s work former coach Sandy Brondello did to manage all the fed-up personalities on the roster.
In a 2020 trade, Phoenix added Diggins-Smith to the core of Griner and Diana Taurasi, and she’s played quite well for them since. Her transition offense this year has carried the team to several of its wins. As a defender, she’s improved from hopeless to legitimately good. Taurasi, her backcourt partner, is scoring at a perfectly fine clip, but she has pretty much elected not to play defense at all.
“I don’t think Dee’s been known for her defense in the league. I’ve read things,” Nygaard said yesterday. “I haven’t seen it because since I’ve been coaching her, she’s been committed. She really—she’s the heartbeat of our defense.” Well! This is true, in the sense that the Mercury’s defense is flatlining.
Nevertheless Nygaard went on to make an All-Star case for Taurasi, who was (rightfully) not selected to play in this year’s All-Star game while Diggins-Smith was. “There will be a game in Chicago,” Nygaard said. “But it will not be an All-Star game because Diana Taurasi’s not playing.” The Mercury Twitter account’s video of this quote has since been deleted; Diggins-Smith’s clown face-based response has not. This afternoon, Nygaard said she understood her comments “have become an issue” and “didn’t mean to take away from Skylar or any of the other All-Stars and their selection to the team.” The updated 2022 Phoenix Mercury beef ranking is as follows:
- Diggins-Smith and Taurasi getting in a big argument on the bench
- Nygaard getting clown emoji-ed by her own player
- Sophie Cunningham yelling “Fuck Tina Charles!”