Sandy Brondello, Mercury Mutually Part Ways After 2021 WNBA Finals Appearance

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 6, 2021

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 13: Head coach Sandy Brondello of the Phoenix Mercury looks on during the second half in Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Mercury defeated the Sky 91-86 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sandy Brondello is moving on from the Phoenix Mercury after eight seasons.

The team announced Monday that Brondello, whose contract expired following the 2021 WNBA season, won't be back on the sideline next year:

Phoenix Mercury @PhoenixMercury

On behalf of the entire X-Factor, thank you, Sandy. <a href="https://t.co/N8elIOG07h">pic.twitter.com/N8elIOG07h</a>

The 53-year-old compiled a 150-108 record in Phoenix. She guided the Mercury to a title in 2014 and a runner-up finish in 2021 in eight straight playoff appearances.

The timing of her departure is likely to raise questions.

Earlier in the day, the New York Liberty announced they let head coach Walt Hopkins go after two seasons. That move seemingly signaled a desire to take a big step forward in 2022, and hiring a proven coach such as Brondello would align with that goal.

There are also implications for the Mercury's future.

Phoenix is firmly in win-now mode with a roster centered around Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, and all three are under contract for 2022. At the very least, the Mercury are poised to make at least one more run at a title.

However, Brondello might have felt the time was right to cash out.

Following the 2017 season, Bill Laimbeer left the New York Liberty after they wrapped up a third straight playoff appearance. The Liberty proceeded to win seven games in 2018.

The Mercury shouldn't have a similar collapse next year, but they may have already hit their ceiling under Brondello. If Breanna Stewart had been healthy for the Seattle Storm, then Phoenix could easily have suffered a second-round postseason exit for the second straight year.

The franchise is relying on an aging Big Three (Taurasi turned 39 in June, while Griner and Diggins-Smith are both 31.) and building around those three stars makes it difficult to fill out the rest of the roster when they account for so much of the salary cap.

In November, Bleacher Report's Jackie Powell outlined how the Mercury need to identify some targets on the wing this offseason, a weakness that was exacerbated when Kia Nurse suffered a torn ACL in October.

As much as Brondello could've questioned the Mercury's potential, a coaching change is the easiest way to reshuffle the deck should general manager Jim Pitman have doubts about what he can achieve through trades or free agency this coming spring.

But if the front office began losing faith in Brondello, one would've expected her departure to come much closer to the end of the 2021 season. There's nothing that has transpired since then to change anything for the Mercury.

Now, Pitman is tasked with finding a successor who can deliver immediate returns and maximize Phoenix's championship window.