Flash back to 2006: the Phoenix Mercury were in need of a change.
The team technically had two recent all stars in Diana Taurasi and Anna Deforge (not to mention another future all-star who we’ll get to later), the latter of which was named to the WNBA All-Star team in 2004 that faced off against the Olympic team that replaced the WNBA All Star game in preparation for Athens.
Coming off a 2005 season in which the team just missed the playoffs, finishing at 16-18, the Mercury brass decided it was time for a change. They decided not to renew the contract of Australian coach Carrie Graf and brought in the “Guru of Go,” former Los Angeles Lakers and Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead. With the blessing of the #2 pick, the team selected All-Star-to-be Cappie Pondexter from Rutgers University and the first steps towards success had been made.
The Mercury had an up-and-down season that year, struggling to an 11-16 record by the start of August before the Merc picked up the pace and finished the season on a 7-game winning streak, including a triple overtime win over the Houston Comets where Taurasi scored a league record 47 points, to push towards the playoffs. The team would finished 18-16, tied for third place in the WNBA’s Western Conference with the Seattle Storm and Houston Comets. Courtesy of tiebreakers, the Mercury missed out on the playoffs, but a precedent had been set: this team felt that they had no one to blame but themselves, and made a vow to come back even harder in 2007. And boy, did it come together well.
For those who may not follow the WNBA as closely, the draft lottery is similar to the NBA’s. The major difference is that no matter what the record, if your team doesn’t qualify for the playoffs, you’re automatically entered into the draft lottery for the #1 pick. Although they had the best record of non-playoff teams, meaning they had the lowest chance of winning the top pick, the Mercury were chosen to select number one overall.
The 2007 draft was considered to be fairly weak and the Mercury front office didn’t feel that there was a player available that would put them over the top. Some team, somewhere had to have something more appealing.
Draft day 2007 rolls around and the Phoenix Mercury draft point guard Lindsey Harding of Duke University and subsequently traded her to Minnesota for veteran forward/center Tangela Smith.
It’s a move that to this day, turned the Mercury franchise in the right direction.
In 34 starts in the prior season for the Charlotte Sting (who folded in 2006, allowing the Lynx to acquire her rights in the dispersal draft), Smith averaged 28.6 minutes in which she scored 13.1 and 5.3 rebounds a night while shooting 42% from the floor, including 37% from three. Tan, as she came to be known by Mercury fans, went on to start every game she played in a Phoenix uniform.
Playing in a stretch post role, Smith finished 4th in scoring during the 2007 championship run as the Mercury defeated the Detroit Shock for the WNBA title. Phoenix followed the championship with a down year, becoming the first champion in WNBA history not to make the playoffs the following year. Part of that falls on Australian All-Star Penny Taylor (remember that aforementioned third future all star? yeah that’s her) missing the season due to commitments to her Australian national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Nevertheless, the Mercury returned to the WNBA’s peak position in 2009. Smith set a WNBA record for three point shooting on the season, shooting a whopping 45% from three while also committing a career-low 1.09 turnovers per game, further helping her team in 27 minutes a night.
Smith went on to set the WNBA standard for games played in a career, currently sitting at 451, and after a season playing for the Fever in Indiana, Smith currently returned from the Olympic break healthy after sitting out the first half with a knee injury for the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Although she has moved on, Smith has left her stamp on the Mercury organization, with her trademark knee-high socks and deadly three point stroke. This, by far, is the best trade in the history of Phoenix Mercury basketball, and this guy hopes that the standards it set for championship pursuit will continue going forward.
After SB Nation-NBA’s look at the greatest NBA cult heroes of all time, this week’s theme is the best trades ever (this post was actually originally posted as a fan post). You can look around the NBA network for other fans’ takes on the best trades ever, but for our purposes here, what would you consider some of the best trades ever either for the league as a whole or your favorite team?