Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/16/12
PHOENIX -- Now that he's multi-tasking as general manager, Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines is responsible for finding out if three or four of his players can achieve the collective value of one Penny. When that Penny's last name is Taylor, that's the only way similar productivity can add up. Having lost his elite forward for the entire season due to a knee injury suffered in Turkey, Gaines didn't have a mechanism available that enabled the Mercury to pick up the phone and hire someone of Taylor's caliber. "That's really tough, because Penny's an extraordinary player," said Gaines, whose fifth season as the Mercury coach begins Sunday in Minnesota. "She's not a player you just go out and find. She's probably top 10 in the world, and they don't come around too often." Fortunately, the Mercury still have superstar guard Diana Taurasi, who probably remains somewhere even higher in that top-10 pecking order and provides Gaines with an on-court constant. Attempting to mitigate the loss of Taylor, however, falls under the assembled purview of Mercury veterans Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner and anyone else who steps forward to assume greater responsibility. "Maybe by committee, we can replace some of the things that Penny does," Gaines said, suggesting that forwards Dupree and Bonner supply some relief by doing even more damage. "DeWanna Bonner ... she is a star already. She can become an even bigger star." Now that Taylor's per-game averages 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists have been removed, this team's margin for error -- a common theme of this past season's Phoenix Suns -- has been whittled to a tricky level. At full strength last season, the Mercury finished 19-15, good for third in the WNBA's Western Conference. They managed to knock off Seattle in the postseason and reached the conference finals -- a scorched-earth encounter with the eventual league-champion Minnesota Lynx -- for the third year in a row. Under Gaines, a committed disciple of Paul Westhead, the Mercury continued setting a fast tempo, leading the WNBA in points per game and field-goal percentage. Playing at pace contributed to Phoenix checking in last in opponent points per game, but the more sinister defensive rank was ninth -- out of 12 teams -- in field-goal percentage allowed. So, with that skinny margin for error factored in, Gaines has put a greater training-camp focus on stopping the other team. "Of course, when you start working on your defense," Gaines said, "what suffers is your offense. People say, 'You can do both,' but something's going to give." But that hasn't prevented Gaines and first-year assistant coach Earl Cureton from making alterations in scheme and focus. Taurasi, who arrived Monday after spending time at the Team USA Olympic camp in Seattle, has noticed the difference this week. "Without a doubt," Taurasi said of Gaines' attention to defensive detail. "That's probably something we hadn't focused on the last couple of years because we were so good. "He's emphasizing a lot of concepts that I think will help us a lot. We have to play both sides of the ball as a team." The Mercury also hope to widen that margin for error through the infusion of new employees. The list of newcomers includes veteran point guard Andrea Riley, rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis and former Lynx reserves Alexis Hornbuckle and Charde Houston. Gaines is looking forward to the added depth represented by the Hornbuckle and Houston. "They give us scoring and defense," he said. And Prahalis, the Big Ten Player of the Year at Ohio State, should provide unique playmaking ability. Perhaps she can help ease the loss of Penny by dropping some dimes. "She has a little ways to go," Gaines said of his rookie. "She'll be a good player in this league. It's going to take some time, though. It's a learning experience." With most of his rotation set, Gaines said the point-guard hierarchy has yet to be determined. "We're going to do that by committee, too," he said. "It's an open spot." While waiting to see which newcomers step forward, Taurasi likes the vibe they've provided in camp. "They (the front office) did a really good job of putting new faces around old faces," she said. "It's nice to bring in those new faces. There's good energy in the gym. "Now, it's going to be on our shoulders, along with the coaching staff, to get them to do the things we need them for do for us to be successful."
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