With the regular season coming to an end on Sunday, the perennial question for Mercury star Diana Taurasi comes up: will she return for the next season?
Taurasi, 40, is under contract for this season and becomes a free agent next season. With longtime friend and former teammate Sue Bird opting to play at 41 and conduct a farewell season this year, it’s possible that Taurasi isn’t finished yet.
The league has spent the entire season building a farewell tour to transformative players in Bird and Sylvia Fowles. Bird still holds the all-time record for assists and Fowles is the all-time leader in rebounds.
“Two cornerstones in this league who are getting the praise they deserve and it was pretty cool to see every team paying their respects to them. No matter if you’re battling for a playoff spot or wherever it may be, you saw every organization pay them that respect,” Taurasi said.
She remains undecided in what the next season will look like for her.
“I take it day by day, week by week. When the season’s over, I’ll do what I’ll always do, brainstorm with the four or five people that I really confide in and have honest conversations with and then I’ll go from there,” Taurasi said.
If it were to come down to it, Taurasi isn’t sure if she’d take the same route as Bird and Fowles did in announcing when her last season will be. Taurasi herself isn’t comfortable with big celebrations. One thing she took from Bird this season is the number of emotions it takes to process the entire game when a team puts on a tribute.
“Her and Syl have been amazing at handling that pressure and all those emotions and be able to go on the court and still be at the top of their games. It’s been amazing,” Taurasi said. “The one thing I keep saying is it’s nice to see Sue at peace with her decision because it’s not an easy decision she made. Last year, she was thinking about it, back-and-forth, and for her to come out and say it, I think there was a weight off her shoulders that made this season very enjoyable for her. It’s fun to see your good friend out there still enjoying it out there after all these years.”
The 18-year WNBA veteran conducted an impressive feat this season where she played 31 consecutive games in a year where the Mercury struggled with injuries.
As the Mercury logged heavy minutes with its starters all season, Taurasi remained a major contributor for the Mercury. Taurasi hit another milestone on July 28 when she became the first WNBA player in league history to score 30 or more at age 40 or older in the 90-80 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. Only Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki have done the feat in NBA history.
However, Taurasi was unable to finish the regular season after she went down on August 2 against the Connecticut Sun with a Grade 2 quadricep injury.
The respective timeline of recovery is three to four weeks, which means she would not be able to play in a potential first round game for the Mercury. The first round is scheduled to start August 17 and potentially end on August 23.
“Timing is not great. Obviously, I’m going to try to push the envelope as much as I can on my end to get back on the court until they say I can’t,” Taurasi said.
The drive to play remains within Taurasi. Even with her standing alone in the league in scoring with 9,693 points and a potential to reach 10,000, she’s not focused on individual accomplishments.
“At this point of my career, nothing matters but being in a position to win a title. That to me in the offseason is going to be my biggest point of contention going forward,” Taurasi said.
There’s also the potential for Brittney Griner to return from Russia for Taurasi to consider. Playing without Griner, who remains detained in Russia, has taken a toll on the league and its players.
Since Griner’s rookie season in 2013, the two have formed a close relationship. Both were also teammates in Russia where Taurasi played with Griner on UMMC Ekaterinburg for two seasons.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve forged this bond on the court, which everyone gets to see. But there’s a behind-the-scenes of our friendship and our relationship that is dear to us. We have a neutral respect for each other, we have an understanding of each other, and you don’t get that with a lot of people. Not only in life, but in your professional career. That would be one thing that I think a lot of people are hoping would happen, obviously me included,” Taurasi said.
When Taurasi makes her decision, Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard understands either way.
“Dee has nothing to prove. It’s just what she wants and if she enjoys the game and if she’s playing well. I know she loves to play and so as long as she wants to play, there will always be a place for her to play in Phoenix,” Nygaard said.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mercury star Diana Taurasi taking her playing career one day at a time