Mercury Shake Up Roster For Playoff Run, Ohlde Traded For Braxton

The Phoenix Mercury are close to completing a trade that will provide size and depth at the center position which has been a weakness for the team this season.

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Ohlde For Braxton Trade Is Official

From the team press release:

Phoenix - The Phoenix Mercury acquired forward/center Kara Braxton from Tulsa in exchange for forward/center Nicole Ohlde and its 2011 first round draft pick, the club announced today.

"It was a hard decision to make," Head Coach Corey Gaines said. "Ohlde is a part of our championship family and we thank her for all she has contributed to this team the last two and a half years. Braxton is a force that will help us this year and into the future. She has played on WNBA championship teams. She is one of the few bigs in this league who demands a double team, which is what every coach in the world would love to have in a post."

Braxton, a 6-6 forward/center, is averaging 9.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and is shooting 50% from the field. In four games vs. the Mercury this season she averaged 12.8 points and 4.0 rebounds including 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting last night in the Mercury's 123-91 win over the Shock. The sixth-year veteran holds career averages of 7.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

"Kara adds a different dimension to our team," Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said, "a low post presence and a big body. She is a winner and has proved it in Detroit winning two championships."

Originally selected by Detroit in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2005 WNBA Draft, the Georgia University product was a part of two championship teams with the Shock (2006, 2008).

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Mercury Shake Up Roster For Playoff Run, Ohlde Traded For Braxton

As SB Nation's WNBA site Swish Appeal originally reported, the Phoenix Mercury are close to announcing a trade that will send backup center Nicole Ohlde and the team's 2011 first round pick to the Tulsa Shock for Kara Braxton.

Multiple sources in Phoenix confirmed the deal as well. Braxton is expected to join the Mercury in Minnesota on Saturday for the second game of their current three-game road trip.

Baxton is a powerful post player who at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds uses her size to battle in the paint.

The Mercury have struggled this season with interior defense and rebounding, a role that was supposed to be provided by the more mobile and skilled Ohlde.

Gaines said this about Braxton after the teams played last week, "Forget all the fancy step-through - all that bullshit. She (Braxton) goes straight to the basket - which is a force - so we kind of have to watch out on her."

Swish Appeal's Q McCall provides this analysis of Braxton's value to the Mercury:

Braxton's biggest asset -- and perhaps the most important strength she brings to Phoenix -- is defensive rebounding. Braxton currently has a defensive rebounding percentage of 27% and has been among the top defensive rebounders in the league all season. For a Phoenix team that has been getting beaten on the offensive boards by nearly 8% -- among the highest differentials in the league -- having a center Braxton's size to help control the glass both helps them limit second chance points and trigger the fast break.

More subtly, Braxton's steal percentage of 4.4% places her in the elite among centers and the reason her average isn't higher could easily be attributed to the fact that she has had 10 less minutes a game than top center thieves. In addition, Braxton is reportedly in better shape than usual as a result of Nolan Richardson's rigorous workout regimen. As Phoenix looks to defend their title in the playoffs, Braxton might be something of an asset to bolster their post rotation.

It will be interesting to see how Gaines uses his new powerful center who wouldn't seem to fit well in his up-tempo system. He will either need to use her in spot situations and key match-ups in the playoffs when things slow down or adjust how his team plays when she's on the floor.

Ohlde was touted by Mercury GM Ann-Meyers Drysdale and Gaines as a player that would play a crucial role this season but clearly never earned the trust of her coach.

Ohlde is only averaging 3 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes per game while Braxton gave the Shock 9.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in just under 17 minutes.

Braxton is also on an expiring contract which gives the Mercury some much needed flexibility in the offseason when Tangela Smith is expected to retire and there's a chance the Diana Taurasi will sit out the 2011 WNBA season.

That threat of Taurasi taking a summer off to give herself a break in what has otherwise been a year-round basketball career since turning pro in 2004 certainly could be motivating the Mercury to act now and sacrifice a draft pick to try and make another run at the title this summer.

Both players are making the WNBA max salary according to league sources.

Braxton has been with the Detroit and now Tulsa Shock organization since graduating from Georgia in 2005. She has two WNBA championships (2006,2008) and was an All-Star game starter in 2007 was named to the all-rookie team in 2005.

Ohlde, Kansas State, is in her 7th year as a pro and was acquired by the Mercury in a trade with Minnesota in 2009 that sent guard Kelly Miller and second-year center LaToya Pringle to the Lynx.

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