The decision by Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello to sit Diana Taurasi against the Sparks was a bad call on many levels.
On Thursday, in a nationally televised game on ESPN2, the Phoenix Mercury had a chance to clinch a playoff spot and be the masters of their own destiny. Phoenix currently sits in the sixth playoff spot but have both the Seattle Storm and Dallas Wings hot on their heels.
So it came as a surprise when it was announced shortly before tipoff that superstar Diana Taurasi would sit out the game and rest.
The result? The Los Angeles Sparks ran away with this one, winning 82-67 and sweeping the season series with the Mercury.
Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello explained the decision to rest Taurasi (as reported by Swish Appeal) despite the fact Phoenix has yet to clinch a playoff spot.
“Four games in seven days, she can’t do that. We probably should have kept her out of Minnesota, but I was thinking with two players out we maybe have a little chance there, but she had no energy there. When you got no fuel in the tank, she just needs a few days off, because a fresh Diana with fresh legs is going to help us more than a tired Diana at the moment, and we need that going forward.”
Read between the lines and it’s obvious that Brondello is looking ahead to their next game against the Storm, which has the potential to be a much easier win than having to try to beat the defending WNBA champions.
For her part, Taurasi fully expected to play but had the choice taken out of her hands by her coach.
“I was expecting to play tonight and Sandy told me I wasn’t…I want to play. I know I don’t have many left, so I want to play. I mean I understand. I mean when you play year-round basketball, you have to do things that help you in the long run as a team right now. I’d rather have been out there than sitting on the bench, I can tell you that.”
But any way you look at the decision, it was a bad one. It made not only the Mercury look bad but the entire WNBA.
Yes, coaches rest players all the time towards the end of the season. It has become such an issue in the NBA that commissioner Adam Silver has vowed to address the problem if it continues. The big difference here is that when a coach sits a player in the NBA, it’s usually because they have already clinched a playoff spot and they decide to rest starters in anticipation of a playoff run.
Here, Phoenix hadn’t clinched anything yet. Basically Brondello looked at the Sparks game as a lost cause and figured why bother playing her franchise player. Instead, why not wait for the easier game and play Taurasi then?
If instead Brondello let Taurasi play and the Mercury got the win? The she could have sat her for the rest of the regular season and Phoenix would have a huge momentum builder going into the postseason.
While some hardcore WNBA fans may understand, the average fan only sees a team and coach that appear weak and not up to the challenge of defeating Los Angeles, who has shown it can be beaten on any given night by any team.
What made the whole situation worse was that the game was on ESPN2 in front of a national audience, at home, on a night the team was honoring Gabby Giffords. If I was a more casual fan and decided to tune in only to find out that Diana Taurasi, one of the WNBA’s marquee players, was sitting due to rest with so much on the line, I’m not really sure I would bother ever watching another game.
Fans always talk about building awareness of the league and showing everyone that women’s hoops is more than a niche sport. But to have one of your superstars sit when you are still trying to punch your ticket to the playoffs makes the WNBA look incredibly bad and to most sports fans, not worth their time.
There is little doubt that Phoenix will make the playoffs. If the Chicago Sky lose to the Connecticut Sun on Friday, Phoenix is in. However, if the Sky can pull off the upset and Seattle, who has just as much to play for as the Mercury, come away with the win on Sunday, many fans might start wondering if the Mercury have any business going to the postseason in the first place.