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Mercury’s Skylar Diggins-Smith will miss last two games due to personal reasons

All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith will miss the final two games of the regular season due to personal reasons, while the Phoenix Mercury continues to fight for one of the last two playoff spots in the WNBA.

The Mercury have suspended Diggins-Smith’s contract, retroactive to Wednesday. The team said Thursday that it intends to sign a replacement player in time for Friday’s game against Dallas Wings. Phoenix closes out the regular season against Chicago Sky on Sunday.

Diggins-Smith, the team leader in scoring and assists this season, did not play in Saturday’s win over the New York Liberty nor in Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota Lynx. She appeared out for a non-COVID illness for the first game and out for personal reasons for the second.

Las Mercury (14-20) are tied with Atlanta, Minnesota y New Yorkwhile the L.A. Sparks (13-22) fell out of the playoff race after falling to Connecticut Sun on Thursday, 93-69. The only other team that has already been eliminated from the postseason is Indiana Fever.

The Mercury announced Monday that veteran shooting guard Diana Taurasi would miss the rest of the regular season with a quadriceps strain. The team said their playoff status would be updated if the Mercury made it to the postseason.

According to salary cap information provided by Her Hoops Stats, Diggins-Smith has signed with Phoenix through next season and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024.

“We found out before the game,” said the coach Vanessa Nygaard about Diggins-Smith missing the last game. “We’ve been through this earlier on Saturday. We’re moving forward one day at a time. We’ve seen it all this year, so whatever’s thrown at us, we’re ready to lace up and move on.”

“It’s such an honor and a privilege to play this game and we’re so blessed every day that we get to go out there and play in front of our great fans. So whoever we have available will come out and fight for our team. We still have a fight, and we’re going to be ready to go. That’s what our fans deserve.”

It’s been a very challenging season for the Mercury and first-year WNBA head coach Nygaard has replaced the current WNBA head coach. New York Liberty, Sandy Brondellowho was fired by Phoenix after eight seasons at the helm of the Mercury, when he guided them to the WNBA title in 2014 and the WNBA Finals last season.

Star center Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges while returning to Russia to finish her stint abroad. Last week, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia, while the United States is still working to bring her home in a prisoner exchange.

Diggins-Smith last played in a loss at Connecticut on Aug. 4, after Griner was sentenced earlier that day.

“This is a human being and our real-life friend and sister,” said a distraught Diggins-Smith, who watched the sentence along with her teammates after that game. “I don’t expect everyone to give a damn. But we really do.

“And we come out here and we’re still supposed to play this game [improperio]. No one even wanted to play today. How are you supposed to approach the game with a clear head, and the whole group is crying before the game? Because you try to honor her and you try to go out there and keep playing hard for her.”

In Phoenix’s fourth game of this season, on May 17 in Las Vegas, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi got into an altercation on the bench and had to be separated by their teammates.

Then Taurasi didn’t make the All-Star Game in July, while Diggins-Smith did. In comments to the media, Nygaard praised the selection of Diggins-Smith, but also said it really couldn’t be an All-Star without Taurasi.

On July 1, Diggins-Smith tweeted the clip of Nygaard saying that and included a clown emoji that appeared to be directed at the coach.

Diggins-Smith deleted his Twitter account on Wednesday.

The Mercury also contractually divorced center Tina Charles, a former MVP who came to the team this year as a free agent, in late June. Charles then signed with his rival Seattle Storm.

In Wednesday’s loss, the Mercury were led by Sophie Cunningham (24 points), Shey Peddy (21) and Megan Gustafson (15). Those were career highs for both Peddy and Gustafson. With so many of the Mercury’s expected starters this season not playing at all, off the team or currently sidelined, Phoenix has had to rely on other players to fill bigger roles.

“I firmly believe that any adversity that comes my way as a person, as a coach in my development, is everything to me,” Nygaard said. “This is something that is going to help me and make me better personally. I think also for our team. The challenges and the things that come to us force us to try new things.”

“I am extremely proud to have coached this group tonight. That group that is in the locker room, it is a tough group and very resilient. I don’t think anyone can imagine some of the challenges that they have faced, but they never gave up. They never gave up.”

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