WNBA free agency: Tina Charles joins Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner in Phoenix

Make it the Big Four.

The Phoenix Mercury officially added former MVP and unrestricted free agent Tina Charles to the 2022 roster on Friday, the team announced. The 6-foot-4 center signed a one-year, $108,000 deal, per Rachel Galligan of Winsidr.

Charles, a highly decorated player entering her 12th season, is still chasing a WNBA championship. She took a pay cut to join the Mercury, already viewed as a top title contender after losing in the WNBA Finals to the Chicago Sky. Then the club added wing Diamond DeShields in a three-team trade on Thursday.

The 2021 leading scorer joins Team USA teammates Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner as the franchise chases a fourth championship. It would be tied for most all-time with the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx, two teams also beefing up their roster for title runs, and the Houston Comets. The foursome were all members of the Tokyo Olympics gold medal team. Taurasi, entering her 18th season, is also closing in on retirement.

Just look at this photo of talent:

Charles, named MVP in 2012, joined the Washington Mystics in 2020 after their championship run in an attempt to run it back with them. But neither she nor Elena Delle Donne played in the bubble season. And Delle Donne, the 2019 MVP, played barely three games last season in a return from two back surgeries. Charles carried the scoring load, leading the league at 23.4 points per game, but Washington was never a real contender and isn't at the top of the pack for 2022.

Stacked Mercury for 2022

If ever there were a time to list accolades, it's now. And the Mercury media team provided it:

  • Two WNBA MVPs (Taurasi '09, Charles '12)

  • Three No. 1 draft picks (Taurasi '04, Charles'10, Griner '13)

  • Five 2021 Olympians who won gold (Taurasi, Charles, Griner, Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse for Canada)

  • 11 total Olympic gold medals (Taurasi 5, Charles 3, Griner 2, Diggins-Smith 1)

  • Nine single-season scoring champions (Taurasi 5, Griner 2, Charles 2). Charles has also led the league in rebounding four seasons (2010-12, '16)

How adding Charles could work

Brittney Griner and Tina Charles
Brittney Griner and Tina Charles are now Phoenix Mercury teammates. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A three-time Olympic gold medalist, Charles has made no secret about her want to win a championship before her WNBA career is done. She initiated the trade conversation that sent her from the New York Liberty, where she's her home state franchise's all-time leading scorer, to the Mystics. The Liberty were about to start a rebuild around point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who they drafted No. 1 days later in 2020. As for the money, she's been open about donating her salary to the Hopey's Heart Foundation.

She's a massive addition to any roster production-wise. The 33-year-old's 23.4 points per game in 2021 was a career high and she was 43% from the field. That included 36.5% from 3-point range. Her domination in some games last season was otherworldly and she single-handedly lifted the Mystics to some wins as they struggled with injuries. And with the Mercury, she'll have the immediate advantage of chemistry with the core of her teammates.

Depth is vital in any game and any season, but will be especially important in this one. The WNBA is adding more games (up to 36) in a shorter time period so that players can go to EuroBasket with their national teams in September. Chicago and Seattle showed in the past seasons how clutch it is to have starters come off the bench, and doing so on short turnarounds that include non-charter travel will be huge.

Why it might not work

Here's the obvious: Not every big name addition works out, and in this case there's one basketball for a lot of talented hands. Charles has one of the highest career usage rates in WNBA history, per Her Hoop Stats. Of those who have played at least 100 games, Charles rates fourth (28.4%), Taurasi rates seventh (28%), Griner is No. 23 (25%) and Diggins-Smith is No. 27 (24.4%).

How Charles and Griner, both of whom were high in the MVP conversation last year, work together will be a critical point for the Mercury. The club's game has long been to run through Griner in the post and then there's defensive star Brianna Turner to consider. They were three of the league's top seven rebounders in 2021.

As if answering the question before the barrage of asks, Mercury general manager Jim Pitman referenced balancing the trio in the team's announcement.

"For us, this move is about adding absolute top-end talent into our frontcourt which already features what we consider the most dominant player in the game in BG and the league’s best defender in Brianna Turner," Pitman said. "We expect to be able to play all three fewer minutes which should benefit us in the playoffs.”

They're also under new leadership in first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard. A new face at the helm to assess without prior experience with everyone in 2021 could be a big positive. It's fresh eyes.

There's more upside than drawbacks and this squad has a lot of hunger. Taurasi for a last hurrah and fourth ring, joining those in 2007, 2009 and 2014. Diggins-Smith and Charles for their first.