Lead-Assistant coach Nikki Blue has been named interim head coach and will be on the bench Tuesday night when the Mercury hosts the Dallas Wings.
Injuries to star players Brittney Griner and Dianna Taurasi have hurt the team, and Skyler Diggens-Smith is on maternity leave without a timetable for return. Mercury General Manager Jim Pittman issued the following statement Sunday morning.
“We have chosen to make a change at head coach. We thank Vanessa Nygaard for the way she endured and managed the adversity of the last year-plus. Our organization and our fans have high expectations for this team, and we have not reached those with our performance this year. We have confidence in the job Nikki Blue will do as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2023 season.”
Nygaard, who was born in Scottsdale, Arizona, was hired by the Mercury in January of 2022 after Sandy Brondello left to coach the New York Liberty. In her two seasons with the Mercury, Nygaard led the team to a 17-31 record and a playoff appearance in 2022.
The team is currently last in the WNBA Western Conference with a league-worst 2-10 record. Griner and Taurasi returned Saturday night after missing three games each and should both be good to go Tuesday night against the Wings.
Who is Nikki Blue?
Blue is a UCLA product that the Washington Mystics drafted. She played four seasons for Washington (2006-2009) and another season with the New York Liberty.
Blue then moved into coaching with assistant roles at UNLV (2008-2014), Cal State Bakersfield (2014-2017), Grand Canyon (2017-2019), and Arizona State (2019-2022). Blue accepted the lead assistant position for Nygaard in 2022 before being named interim head coach on Sunday.
Can the Mercury Reach the Playoffs?
The Mercury are +450 (DraftKings) to make the playoffs. They likely won’t make the playoffs, but paying -650 to find out isn’t worth the risk.
The Mercury don’t box out and are last in offensive and defensive rebounds. Phoenix is also last in points and fouls drawn, and being last in each of those categories is why they are -650 to miss the playoffs.
Griner and Taurasi are shadows of their former selves. They can still ball, but Taurasi isn’t the defender she once was, and while Griner is still posting gaudy scoring numbers, she averages just 6.4 caroms, and a WNBA team isn’t going to win many games when their top rebounder gets worked nightly on the glass.
Finally, seeing how the ladies react Tuesday night against Dallas will be interesting. Blue is known as a “players coach,” and the main gripe with Nygaard was that she wasn’t very player friendly.
Griner and Taurasi may respond favorably to the coaching change, but as long as Diggins-Smith is out of the lineup, the Phoenix Mercury aren’t going to make the playoffs this season.