During the 2021 offseason, the Washington Mystics signed some of the most sought out players in WNBA free agency. Alysha Clark, coming from the Seattle Storm, was added to the roster for $183,000 for each of the next three years; Tina Charles, who sat out the past season, renewed for a single-season $175,000 contract; Ariel Atkins extended for two more years, for $170,000 in both 2021 and 2022. Lastly, Natasha Cloud signed a three-year contract, with compensation agreed to the values $190,000 in 2021, $185,000 in 2022 and $190,000 in 2023. All but Cloud’s are reported to be fully protected deals.
Besides the recently confirmed six-digit names, coach Mike Thibault also welcomed Erica McCall, from the Minnesota Lynx (two-year unprotected contract for $72,000 each year) plus Theresa Plaisance and Aislinn Konig (training camp contracts). Additionally, Sug Sutton and Stella Johnson return after accepting their qualifying offers, ready to compete for the final few roster spots during training camp.
Returning from the 2019 championship run, still on existing contracts, are Elena Delle Donne and Myisha Hines-Allen. One more name is still on hold: Emma Messeman, the 2019 Finals MVP, who has not confirmed yet whether or not she will play the 2021 season.
With that in mind, what is next for the team from the United States capital?
Decisions to be made
The WNBA has not released its calendar yet, as it depends on the International Olympic Committee to determine if/when the Tokyo Olympics take place. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic is still among us. Because of the latter, Delle Donne (twice the MVP: 2015 and 2019) sat out in 2020, as she suffers from Lyme Disease, a chronic condition that requires her to take 64 medical pills a day. Her decision to opt out came despite the all-clear from the WNBA’s special medical board that evaluated athlete eligibility. Delle Donne has long been candid about her illness, and this was a bad look for the league; despite the ruling, the Mystics stepped up and committed to paying her full salary.
However, the question remains: will Delle Donne, the backbone of the Washington Mystics, opt out of this next season? Good news on that front for DC fans. Winsidr has received intel suggesting she plans to suit up in 2021, a huge return for the franchise.
As for Emma Messemman, she is currently still an unrestricted free agent, though few teams would have the cap room to add her at this late date, without some salary cap gymnastics. The Belgium star is currently playing in Russia, for the powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg, and will represent her national team in a potential Olympic run.
The forward is the main star in the Belgian Cats and may choose to not play in the WNBA in 2021, either for the entirety of the season or until after the Tokyo Games. Recently, Cloud said that she sitting out the 2021 season, but that was quickly debunked by Messeman herself on Twitter.
Always amazing to see how media knows my decisions before I do myself. I have not decided anything yet for the upcoming WNBA season. One thing that I am sure is that if I will go, it’ll be only after the Olympics. Thank you.
— Emma Meesseman (@EmmaMeesseman) March 11, 2021
Even though these are only two players, Elena Delle Donne and Emma Messeman are extremely essential to Coach Mike Thibault’s rotation. Both of them had the franchise’s first- and second-best points averages during the 2019 regular season: 19.5 points per game (PPG) and 13.1 PPG, respectively. In the final series against the Connecticut Sun, Messeman averaged 17.8 PPG and 4.6 rebounds per game (RPG), and Delle Donne 13.4 PPG and 6.2 RPG.
To further complicate matters, Alysha Clark has just suffered a Lisfranc injury of her right foot while playing for Lyon in France and will be out for the 2021 WNBA season.
Guaranteed front and backcourt — with new and old players!
On paper, the Washington Mystics already had one of the strongest frontcourts in the WNBA, following the bubble season breakout of Hines-Allen and the addition of five-time All-Star, Charles.
They are similarly stacked in the backcourt. With Mitchell, Atkins, and Cloud, the flow of that group is a cohesive unit, very dangerous to anyone who crosses their way.
All have champion experience (Leilani in the WNBL), and they’ve faced heavily reinforced rosters on the way to winning those accolades. It is worth highlighting Mitchell, the Australian veteran, is one of the most skilled guards at executing the high-low, which she showed off while playing for the Phoenix Mercury. The second play of the highlight video below could be duplicated with Charles.
As a shooting guard, Cloud converts three-pointers at a career 32-percent clip, but was one of six Mystics to make more than one three a game for that record-setting squad. Even though her numbers are not at the top within her roster, she still provides solid reinforcement, especially now with Alysha Clark sidelined.
How will things play out?
The Washington Mystics definitely have big decisions to make during the WNBA Draft and throughout what promises to be a competitive training camp. Thibault won’t have any lack of options, however, there is a lot of uncertainty that can stagger the preparation process. Jacki Gemelos and LaToya Sanders, who had received offers, announced their retirements earlier this offseason. Delle Donne and Messeman still haven’t decided their future in 2021. There are no picks upcoming for the franchise in April’s draft, but last-minute trades are always an option.
With a high quality and championship potential roster, the only thing that is running against the Mystics’ success is time.