A League Without Its Star

diana turasi wnba

In February, six months after winning her third WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi shocked fans when she announced that she would sit out the 2015 season.

It's not an early retirement — just a breather.

Her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, requested she not play for the Mercury so that she is rested and healthy for the club when its season tips off in October. The 32-year-old has played basketball in Russia and Turkey during the WNBA off-season since 2006, but this move is not just about rest.

Her decision is as much about dollars and cents as it is about career longevity. Taurasi, a five-time WNBA scoring champ, is raking in about $1.5 million with UMMC by agreeing to its request. Last season, the 11-year veteran and seven-time All-Star collected just under the WNBA's max salary of $107,000 (that's $400,336 less than the NBA's minimum salary). While the time off the court can extend Taurasi's career — in the U.S. and abroad — the money sets her up better in the long term.

It's a win-win for Taurasi, but how big of a loss is it for the WNBA, and specifically, Phoenix?

There's no sign of impact just yet. But Taurasi's choice could possibly open the door for more players to skip future WNBA seasons, as more than half the league plays overseas during the winter for extra cash. And even with dominant dunkmaster Brittney Griner down low, Phoenix will have to work extra hard to fend off teams looking to dethrone the Taurasi-less champs.

The league and the Mercury will miss its star, but Taurasi will be back at it in 2016, rested and ready.

Photo: Michal Dolezal/CTK/Zumapress.com

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