PHOENIX -- What has been discussed most about the WNBA's defending champions is all that has changed for the Mercury from a year ago. But especially after a big victory at home Sunday, it's a good time to talk about who the 2015 Mercury actually are, not who they aren't.
So let's look at that through the eyes of two veteran players -- guard Leilani Mitchell and forward Monique Currie -- who until this season spent their WNBA careers in the Eastern Conference. Now they're in the Mercury's starting lineup.
"This was always one of my favorite places to play as an opposing player, just because the crowd is so into the game," Currie said Sunday after the Mercury handed Minnesota its first loss of the season, 81-66. "Now being on the other side, I know it really does help you. It pushes you and gives you more energy."
There were a lot of good vibes Sunday at US Airways Center, a place some might have suspected would be a bit like a haunted house in 2015. After all, the face of the franchise, guard Diana Taurasi, is sitting out this season to rest. Forward Penny Taylor, like Taurasi a key part of the Mercury's WNBA titles in 2007, '09 and '14, is also taking the summer off.
And center Brittney Griner, expected to be Phoenix's go-to player for 2015, is out until June 27 as she serves a seven-game suspension for a domestic violence incident in April.
"Obviously, I wanted to play with Diana, especially," said Currie, who like Mitchell signed with the Mercury as a free agent in February. "But I felt that with the players that they had here, and the ones they were bringing in, they'd still put a good product on the court.
"My ultimate goal is to win a WNBA championship. I knew that coming here, it would give me a chance to fulfill that dream."
"My ultimate goal is to win a WNBA championship. I knew that coming here, it would give me a chance to fulfill that dream." Monique Currie on the opportunity
It's something Currie has been chasing since she was drafted No. 3 overall in 2006 out of Duke. The players who went above her -- No. 1 Seimone Augustus and No. 2 Cappie Pondexter -- each have two WNBA titles, which they won with Minnesota and Phoenix, respectively. The player drafted No. 6 that year, Candice Dupree, is currently a teammate of Currie's and one of the two returning starters for the Mercury.
The other is DeWanna Bonner, who has stepped forward as Phoenix's leading scorer at 19.3 points per game.
Bonner had 22 points, Dupree 15, Mitchell 11 and Currie 9 against the Lynx on Sunday. Minnesota was the consensus preseason favorite in the WNBA. And while the victory elevated the Mercury to just a .500 record at 2-2 -- and everyone in the WNBA will tell you not to make too much of just one game -- it still meant something to play that well against a Lynx team with its superstar core back.
"It's been a tough beginning this season, but our chemistry is coming together," Bonner said. "To get this win is what we've been talking about. This is huge for our confidence."
The idea that Phoenix can win a championship without the leadership of its mega-alpha dog, Taurasi, may seem unlikely. But then again, as Currie said, there is still a lot of talent on this team. And that's even without Griner, whose personal life turmoil has dominated WNBA news coverage for the past month and a half, yet hasn't disrupted the Mercury.
A lot of credit for that goes to Bonner and Dupree, and also Mistie Bass and Tiffany Bias, who returned off Phoenix's bench last year. And the newcomers to the Mercury seem to have bonded quickly.
Along with Currie and Mitchell, there are two other WNBA veterans new to Phoenix -- Noelle Quinn and Shameka Christon -- and three players new to the WNBA -- Australians Cayla Francis and Tess Madgen, and rookie Alex Harden, who was a second-round pick at No. 18 out of Wichita State.
Incidentally, Mitchell also was taken in the second round by Phoenix, in 2008 at No. 25. The 5-foot-5 guard out of Utah was then traded to New York before that season started. In exchange, the Mercury got a 2009 third-round pick that didn't pan out.
Mitchell, on the other hand, has defied the odds and is in her seventh WNBA season. You could call her a great underdog story, but she grins and says she doesn't really think of it that way.
"My fundamentals and my understanding of the game has really taken me a long way," Mitchell said. "I think that's what helps people stay in the game."
Indeed, Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said those qualities were exactly why she wanted Mitchell once it was certain Taurasi was sitting out. Certainly, there is no confusing the two; the 6-0 Taurasi towers above Mitchell and is one of the all-time greats. But when it comes to running an offense, Mitchell -- who had seven assists Sunday -- knows what she's doing.
"When you lose Diana Taurasi, the best pick-and-roll player in the world, you need to try to fill it as best you can," Brondello said. "We've changed a little bit offensively, but there's still a lot of pick-and-roll. So you need someone who can control the offense and know what to run, and be able to knock down shots.
"Leilani can do all that. People think that they can exploit her because of her size, but it doesn't work because she's so crafty."
Mitchell wasn't in the WNBA last season, instead playing in the Australian league to help prepare her to compete with that country's national team in the 2014 World Championship. Mitchell is from Richland, Washington, but her late mother was a native of Australia.
"I think with each game, we improve and discover things about ourselves that we need to work on. Hopefully we'll keep moving in that direction." Leilani Mitchell on team chemistry
The Australians won a bronze medal at the World Championship, doing so without injured standouts Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage.
"We didn't have those All-Stars, but we had many people who were talented," Mitchell said. "And because we were so close, we played well together. I think that's what took us to the bronze."
Mitchell has the same mindset about this season's Mercury squad.
"I think with each game, we improve and discover things about ourselves that we need to work on," said Mitchell, who turned 30 on Monday. "Hopefully we'll keep moving in that direction, and when Brittney comes back, it will take us to another level."
Meanwhile for Currie, this opportunity with Phoenix puts her in a different place geographically in the United States. The former Blue Devils star was drafted by now-defunct Charlotte, but spent most of her WNBA career in Washington, which is where she was born and grew up. The East Coaster is enjoying the West.
"I wanted to experience something different and be part of something else," Currie said. "Being here, it really has been a blessing to me."
Currie has been a big-time scorer at times in her career, but she came to Phoenix telling Brondello, "I'll do whatever you need."
Currie and Mitchell aren't trying to be duplicates of Taurasi and Taylor, because that would not be possible. But what they can do for the Mercury was on display Sunday, and you can understand why the Phoenix fans already have taken to them so much.
"I think we both bring leadership," Currie said. "Leilani is a lot more mellow and calm, and she leads that way. I feel like I'm a little more vocal, and both of those can be an asset to this team."