Last Sunday, Ben Standig published an interview with Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault for a two-part interview you can read on The Sports Capitol. In the first part, Thibault talked about Emma Meesseman’s absence for the 2018 WNBA season and Monique Currie’s return to Washington.
In regard to Currie, Thibault didn’t mention anything that was unexpected. I always felt that she had to leave in 2015 because the Mystics needed to commit to their younger players. Thibault concurred with that and did not feel that the Mystics had to core her. Coincidentally, Currie is the last Mystics player who was cored back in the 2012 offseason.
But he did give more details on what caused Emma Meesseman to opt for the Belgian national team instead of the Mystics in 2018. The Koninklijke Belgische Basketballbond had “no problems with her for all of the regular season,” Thibault said to Standig. “The problem is they wanted her to leave our team during the playoffs.”
Thibault went on to say that Meesseman was showing signs of being checked out after year round play for six years, dating back to the 2012-13 European season when she played for ESB Villeneuve-d’Ascq, a club based in Lille, France. Lille is also the closest major city to Ieper, Meesseman’s hometown.
From Thibault’s remarks, we have more light on why Meesseman decided to stay in the Benelux this summer instead of donning a Mystics uniform. It sounds like Meesseman wanted to be with the Mystics after all. They were about to start a season where we could really know where they stand.
But the Belgian basketball authorities have their own ambitions that don’t line up with the WNBA calendar. To be fair to them, they don’t owe the WNBA anything.
It seems as if the KBBB wanted things both ways. First, they had no problem seeing Meesseman here in America for much of the summer because she is Europe’s biggest basketball star on American soil. To be honest, she’s Europe’s only true star on American soil in the summers.
But second, Belgium, like other non-American teams, want to get a “head start” on the United States before the World Cup. Other countries are likely doing it, so why not Belgium? It’s also their first appearance in the World Cup, and they don’t want to look bad in it.
Though Thibault mentioned that Meesseman will be back in 2019, she’s probably missing a significant chunk then as well. Belgium is very close to securing a spot in EuroBasket Women 2019. Since he anticipated at least some of these things happening, I’m not sure why he did not part ways with Meesseman when she had significant trade value.
For example, before the Elena Delle Donne trade happened, the Sky wanted Meesseman in a deal. The Mystics refused to do so, but the Sky did let Delle Donne go for Stefanie Dolson instead. If the Mystics were an NBA team where international team commitments weren’t an issue, then the Mystics made a very sound trade. They kept their best player from the 2016 season and acquired a superstar.
But the reality is that if the Mystics did trade Meesseman to Chicago, it would be the Sky who has to deal with European commitments, not the Mystics. Meesseman wouldn’t have been the only player in that situation for Chicago if she was traded there. Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley have also played for Hungary in EuroBasket Women before, so availability issues for the Sky would have been a more significant concern than they were in 2017 if that scenario played out.
Trades shouldn’t be about “stiffing” other teams. Everyone must accomplish a goal in a trade. But Meesseman’s value was highest after the 2016 season. And another team was willing to take her contract despite the fact that that team knew she would miss part of 2017 for EuroBasket Women and perhaps more tournaments after that. Because she’s missing time now, it will be hard for her to get that kind of value given the way the WNBA’s current dynamics are, especially for non-Americans like her.
To be clear, the Mystics are still in a very good situation for 2018. They are more talented than most other teams and can make the Finals, even if they aren’t the absolute favorite. And record-wise, they actually played better without Meesseman than with her. (Sounds eerily similar to a current Wizards situation). But at the same time, I’m not exactly sure why Meesseman seemed to be untouchable before the 2017 season, even if the Mystics anticipated this all along.