Tina Charles calls decision to leave Phoenix Mercury, sign with Seattle Storm 'extremely hard' but one that 'just made sense'

Three days after completing a contract divorce with the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday, former WNBA MVP Tina Charles signed as a free agent with the Storm for the remainder of the season and explained her decision to orchestrate the midseason move after practicing with Seattle for the first time.

"I have a small window," Charles, 33, said during a news conference Tuesday, "and there's a way I want to play in the time I have left. There's a way I want to be coached. Just knowing about the culture here and having a good relationship with Sue (Bird), it made it really easy when looking at the window and being at the halfway mark of the season. It just made sense for me."

The recruiting process for Charles started during the offseason, when she was an unrestricted free agent. A source told ESPN that Charles narrowed her choices to Seattle and Phoenix, but a disagreement between the sides in how Charles would be used by the Storm led her to choose Phoenix.

Charles' stint with the Mercury didn't go as hoped.

With Phoenix star center Brittney Griner wrongfully detained in Russia for alleged cannabis possession while awaiting trial, the Mercury were a disappointing 6-12 when they agreed to part ways with Charles. A source said that Charles' divorce from Phoenix had been in the making for most of the season. She had been unhappy with her role in the offense, which included a desire to take more shots, for some time.

Having found a new home in the WNBA, Charles declined to elaborate on what went wrong, saying Tuesday, "This isn't the platform to explain it here." She admitted leaving the Mercury midseason was difficult.

"It was extremely hard because the decision that I made didn't just impact my life but it impacted those in Phoenix," Charles said. "It's something that I think about all the time, but at some point you do what's best for your life and your career."

Right now, that meant joining Seattle, which is fourth in the WNBA standings at 11-7. Charles acknowledged the championship potential for a Storm roster that now features four members of last year's gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team (Bird, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart being the others) but said her focus is more on where she's playing and with whom than winning a first WNBA title.

"At the end of the day, championship or not in my career," Charles said, "but the way I went out was playing with upstanding individuals, upstanding character players and coaching staff. That's not to say that's not what it was in Phoenix, but I just felt that this opportunity, there was more there from what I saw and what I heard and having close relationships with the players."

Those players include the three Olympians and fellow New Yorker Epiphanny Prince, whom Charles has known since age 10 and played with for four seasons with their hometown Liberty from 2015 to '18.

Bird is a particularly close friend because of their shared alma maters in both high school and college.

"Sue always jokes and says that I follow her everywhere from going to Christ the King, going to UConn, the USA team and I didn't think that I would be here but I'm here now," Charles said. "We were able to work out in the offseason, we've been on vacation together, Sue means everything the same way Diana (Taurasi) means everything to me. I didn't think I would be able to play with both of them in the season, but I think I'm making history right there."

(Charles will actually become the fifth player to play with both Bird and Taurasi in the same season, joining a group that includes current Seattle head coach Noelle Quinn.)

As for Charles' role with the Storm after frustration with the Mercury, she expressed openness to whatever Quinn asks of her.

"To be myself in whatever opportunities are presented my way, in whatever minutes are presented my way," Charles said of her expectations. "To be able to impact this team, help this team physically, vocally out there, be a presence. I think I'll be able to be who I am within the minutes or within the span that I'm out there, whichever unit I'm out there with."

Quinn declined to say whether Charles, who has started all 373 games she's played in the WNBA, would move immediately into the team's starting lineup ahead of her debut Wednesday against the Las Vegas Aces.

"That gives other teams the ability to plan for us," Quinn said. "I'm not going to worry about that. I think we're just happy that she's here. We'll see how the game goes and how it flows."

Whether starting or off the bench, Charles should help address two key shortcomings for Seattle. The Storm rank second to last in the WNBA in rebound percentage, and adding the second-leading rebounder in league history will be a positive there.

Additionally, Charles can bring more scoring punch to Seattle's reserve lineups, which have had difficulty scoring without Stewart. According to WNBA Advanced Stats, Seattle has been outscored by 15.3 points per 100 possessions with Stewart on the bench -- fifth-worst among players who have been off the court for at least 100 minutes this season. No Seattle reserve is averaging more than 4.9 points per game this season.

"You put her on the Storm," said Bird, "and a lot of the things that we have had some struggles in -- rebounding, going stretches without being able to score -- this is a player that gives us solutions to those problems."

Although Charles is in the back half of her WNBA career in her 13th season after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, she also made it clear Tuesday that she's not ready to retire any time soon.

"I'll retire when I stop getting double- and triple-teamed," said Charles, who has been double-teamed second most often on post-ups of any WNBA player, according to Synergy Sports tracking. "When people stop respecting me, that's when I know it's time to go. But until that day, I'll be out there. That was the New York in me that just came out there."

ESPN's Josh Weinfuss contributed to this report.