Diana Taurasi is getting paid not to play.
The Phoenix Mercury star announced Tuesday that she will skip the 2015 WNBA season this summer after accepting an offer from her Russian club to rest. Taurasi was slated to make just more than $108,000 this year playing for the Mercury — the third-highest amount on the team. She makes roughly $1.5 million playing in Russia.
"The year-round nature of women's basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down," Taurasi said in a letter to Mercury fans. "They offered to pay me to rest and I've decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing."
Taurasi, who said she will play in the WNBA in 2016, averaged 16.2 points and 5.6 assists in helping the Mercury win their third championship last season. She was the MVP of the WNBA Finals.
The move wasn't a huge surprise to Geno Auriemma, who coached Taurasi at Connecticut and on the U.S. national team.
"The game itself takes a tremendous toll on you, physically, emotionally," he said Tuesday night after becoming the fastest college coach to reach 900 victories. "I wouldn't be surprised if those players who are making a lot of money overseas, and their livelihood doesn't depend on playing in the WNBA, I wouldn't be surprised if this happens more often, because it's such an unnatural lifestyle. Maybe it's a lot of fun when you are 25, but I don't know that you can sustain that."
WNBA President Laurel J. Richie would love to see a time when the league could compensate its players as well as the European and Chinese leagues, where top stars can earn salaries in the upper six-figure and low seven-figure range. WNBA salaries top out around $108,000.
"We are entering into our 19th season and there has been tremendous growth and we've discussed all our metrics and are heading in the right direction," she said. "We look to continue that and that will be shared with players, owners and all who contributed to that success."
Richie doesn't expect star players sitting out to become a trend.
"I think foremost I totally understand and respect her decision to take a rest," Richie said. "She's been playing at an incredibly high level for 10 years, so I understand and appreciate that."
WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins haven't played overseas yet in their young careers. As part of its current labor contract, ratified last year, the league allowed teams to offer a total of $50,000 to their players to stay in the United States during the offseason.
That's $50,000 per team to be divided among all its players — however the club sees fit. Sort of like a salary cap.
It's a start, at least.
"We have a host of players who have made the decision not to play overseas," Richie said. "This offseason Shoni (Schimmel) is here in the States, training and working. Tamika (Catchings) is here working with her foundation and doing a couple of global clinics."
This isn't the first time Taurasi has received an offer to skip the WNBA season, but she never took one before.
"She won a WNBA championship for them last year," Auriemma said. "There is never a right time to not play, but maybe in her mind this is the best time."
Taurasi has spent her entire WNBA career with the Mercury, also leading them to league championships in 2007 and 2009.
"We understand Diana's choice not to play this season, a decision that undoubtedly will extend her career and will benefit the Mercury in the future," Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. "Obviously, it is hard to replace someone of her caliber, but we are confident in our other key personnel on our roster continuing their development and rising to the challenge."
AP Sports Writer John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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