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Brittney Griner gets one-year deal from Phoenix Mercury to return to WNBA

Brittney Griner secured a one-year deal with the Mercury worth about $165,000. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
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Brittney Griner had intended to play for the Phoenix Mercury this season, and it became official Friday.

Per the WNBA’s transactions wire, the Phoenix Mercury signed the seven-time all-star, who had spent about 10 months held in Russia after being arrested at an airport in February. The State Department considered her “wrongfully detained,” and she was sentenced to 9½ years in prison after pleading guilty to bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country. Griner was released in December and returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

While pleading guilty, Griner said she made an “honest mistake” and didn’t realize the vape cartridges were in her bag. She has played for Russian squad UMMC Ekaterinburg during WNBA offseasons.

The Mercury signed Griner, 32, to a one-year contract worth $165,100, per, though the deal had not been announced as of Saturday night. She missed the 2022 season but had averaged 20.5 points and a career-high 9.5 rebounds in 2021 while helping the Mercury to the WNBA Finals, where it lost to the Chicago Sky in four games. She has spent her entire WNBA career with the Mercury, which made her the No. 1 draft pick in 2013 and claimed the WNBA title a year later.

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The signing further bolsters the Mercury roster — and guard Diana Taurasi signed Saturday to spend a 19th season with Phoenix. The 40-year-old is the league’s all-time leading scorer, but the end of her career is near. Still, the Mercury brings back a core of Taurasi, Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Sophie Cunningham.

Griner’s return put the WNBA’s travel methods back in the spotlight; after her detainment in Russia, she is expected to need to take private flights for security reasons. WNBA rules do not allow teams to charter private flights, a point of contention for the players union. President Biden also came under fire for releasing Bout, who was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 25 years in 2012 for supporting terrorism and conspiring to kill Americans.

“It’s through hardship that character is revealed, and over the last nine months, we have seen the best of so many,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement after her release. “At the top of that list are BG and President Biden. Throughout this ordeal, BG has carried herself with courage, grace and grit; and President Biden made us a promise, and then kept his word and did what was necessary to bring her home. We are forever grateful for his follow-through on that commitment.”

From December: Griner ‘compassionate, humble’ after release from Russia

Griner became a household name during her detainment. WNBA players did what they could to keep her in the news, urging Biden to bring her home and counting the days she was detained. The basketball community celebrated her release two months ago, and now she’s in line to be back on the court this spring.

“I have been fortunate enough to be around BG in both basketball and social settings and have loved being around her,” Washington Mystics General Manager Mike Thibault said after she was released. “Her energy and zest for life has always stood out, and it’s so wonderful to know that she is free from this nightmare and will be reunited with her wife, family and friends.”