How Are The “Post-Divorce” Phoenix Mercury Feeling?

Some context before we get to the drama: Plot talent against suffering, and you’ll find eight-time All-Star/zero-time WNBA champion Tina Charles in the same cursed quadrant as Mike Trout. (Sue Bird belongs one quadrant over: high talent, low suffering. Raise a glass to the various Timofey Mozgovs and Matthew Dellavedovas who lucked into the sweet low-talent, low-suffering life.)

Unlike Trout, though, Charles has spent the last few years aggressively trying to escape her predicament. After the 2019 season in New York, where the center had played six seasons and a total of eight playoff games, she asked the Liberty’s rebuild-focused front office for a trade to D.C. The Mystics, reigning champions with an excellent veteran core, were a strong bet to make another deep postseason run. But the pandemic threw a wrench into Charles’s plans for a ring; she and several Mystics sat out the 2020 bubble season. When she returned to basketball the following year, Charles put up some career numbers, but no one else on the team produced much, and the rehabbing Elena Delle Donne didn’t return until halfway through the summer. Typical Charlesian luck? In part, yes. It doesn’t help that Charles plays a high-usage style in the post that sometimes limits the players around her. In any case, the Mystics missed the playoffs last season and her contract was up.

Her next signing was with the Phoenix Mercury. Between the team’s age and injury history and Charles’s own positional fit, this was a somewhat weaker bet. But Phoenix made the Finals last year. Who’s to say one more All-Star big wasn’t all they needed? Charlesian luck strikes again: The Mercury star who enabled last year’s Finals run is—maybe you’ve heard about this—currently being detained in Russia.

Phoenix stinks. They are fully in the Bad Zone, defending as poorly as I’ve ever seen a team defend, and without any first-round picks next year as reason to hope/reason to tank. This weekend, Charles hit them with an “it’s not me, it’s you” and left for the greener pastures and greener jerseys of the Seattle Storm. She did so via what the WNBA calls, melodramatically, a “contract divorce.” Really, this just means a buyout agreement. The divorce was amicable; Mercury GM Jim Pitman said in a statement that they felt it “best for both parties to go our separate ways.” Head coach Vanessa Nygaard leaned fully into the odd language: “We’re ready to move ahead. It’s a divorce. So we’re moving ahead. That’s what you do when you get divorced, right?” Seattle’s a perfectly fine bet to win a championship in theory. But expect something bad to happen there now that Charles has made her move. Jewell Loyd has just been diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, probably, and Breanna Stewart wants to join a convent.

You think the Mercury would crumble? You think they’d lay down and die? No, it follows that if Charles is forever cursed, the team she left behind might react as though a curse had been lifted. And that’s what happened Saturday. The Mercury, 6-12 at the time of divorce, ended a three-game losing streak, rallying from an early deficit and beating the Dallas Wings 83-72. After the game, Sophie Cunningham, Phoenix’s reliable and mostly annoying shit-talker, did what she does best.

OK! Maybe everyone is better off apart now. Charles will have a chance to respond to Cunningham and to show off her new team next month when the Storm play the Mercury. I’m afraid she now has no choice but to recreate this photo:

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