There hasn’t been a Washington, D.C. professional basketball team with real title contender status for a long time.
The Mystics mediocrity isn’t as long-running as the Wizards (they were first place in their conference in 2010). But in some ways, their fans suffered more than Wizards fans.
Over the course of their 19-year history, the Mystics missed the playoffs more years then they made it. Furthermore, they haven’t had a true superstar on the team since they traded Chamique Holdsclaw to the Los Angeles Sparks in 2005.
That mediocrity is likely over. In what will probably be the WNBA’s biggest blockbuster deal of the year, the Mystics now have former rookie of the year, MVP, and Olympian Elena Delle Donne.
One of Delle Donne’s motivations for forcing her way from Chicago to the DMV is to be closer to her family. It’s not wrong to say that the Mystics are lucky that they are one of the closest WNBA franchises to Delle Donne’s home in Delaware. But we also need to give the organization credit: Over the course of five years they transformed themselves from the worst team in the league to the perfect landing spot for a superstar who wanted a chance of scenery.
Elena Delle Donne: "So much went into this decision. Washington just meets all my personal and professional wishes."— Gene Wang (@gene_wang) February 2, 2017
The Boston Celtics aren’t a very popular team among D.C. basketball fans right now because of their brewing rivalry. But there are strong parallels to the rebuilding strategies that the Mystics and Celtics have taken.
Both teams put an emphasis on player development, strong coaching, good team culture, and preserving assets for future trades. While both teams have been light on talent at the top of the roster, they were deep and versatile with role players. Both teams had everything in place except that one superstar to push them over the top. Danny Ainge is still waiting for his superstar, but Mike Thibault got his.
Thibault (a three time Coach of the Year) has a reputation for being popular among players, and as a General Manager he’s done an exceptional job scouting talent in the later rounds of the draft. The most prominent example is of course Emma Meesseman, the 6’4” center who Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal argued was a better shooter than Steph Curry.
Give Meesseman a lot of credit too: After the Mystics drafted her in the second round in 2012, she only brought enough clothes to DC for two weeks, assuming she wouldn’t make the final roster. Five years later, we’re arguing about whether she’s just going to be a multi-time All-Star, or a true superstar.
Meesseman still has a lot more to prove than Delle Donne, who is already an MVP and has carried her team further than Meesseman ever has. But Delle Donne is 27 and Meesseman is just 23 right now, younger than Delle Donne was when she entered the WNBA. It’s not totally crazy to think that Meesseman (who, according to reports, is considered untouchable by the Mystics’ front office) has the potential become even better than Delle Donne when she enters her prime.
Together, Meesseman and Delle Donne will be one of the most versatile, best-shooting frontcourt duos in the history of the WNBA. In just four years, the Mystics transformed themselves from the absolute bottom of the league to a team that was just one piece away from contender status.
Thibault’s coaching and management of the team, the steady veteran guidance of players like Ivory Latta, and Meesseman’s growth into a star put the team in the perfect position to take advantage of a situation like this. Now, they have their franchise player and are poised to have sustainable success for years to come.