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2019 Year in Review: The Mystics are champions while the Wizards shake up the front office for a rebuild

Washington’s NBA and WNBA teams went in opposite directions standings-wise in 2019. Here’s an abbreviated summary of the year that was.

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Five
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

To most, D.C. means “District of Columbia. But in 2019, that now seems to mean “District of Champions” instead.

In October, the Washington Mystics won the 2019 WNBA championship after a thrilling five-game series win over the Connecticut Sun. And later that month, the Washington Nationals won the World Series. Though the Capitals lost in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2019, fans are still optimistic about their hot start to the 2019-20 season. In a month, the Baltimore Ravens may even be Super Bowl champions!

Other professional sports, especially soccer teams had a positive moment in some way right here in the DMV. The United States women’s national team defeated the Netherlands to win their fourth World Cup with Spirit players Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle. D.C. United made the playoffs again with Wayne Rooney, but he’s now back in England ready to embark on a coaching adventure.

College sports, at least those in the mid Atlantic, also had a great 2019. Virginia won the men’s basketball championship this year and this year’s Orange Bowl in football. Virginia Tech made the Sweet 16. Maryland’s women’s and men’s basketball teams remain ranked forces nationally. And the Naval Academy’s football team is back in Top-25 form.

Of course, there are other teams that fell on rough times this year. Among others, the Maryland football team is just ... not good. Neither are the Orioles (even though most DMV residents are firmly part of Nats Nation today).

The Washington Wizards didn’t make the playoffs and are in the middle of another poor season in the record books. The Redskins’ fanbase is starting to deteriorate as well. The good news for the Wizards is that they have a brand new front office. And earlier Monday, the Redskins began to do the same.

At this site, we’ve seen the highs with the Washington Mystics and the lows with the Wizards in a 2019 that I feel is yin-and-yang. There has to be balance in life. I guess the D.C. sports Gods wanted me to ... stay balanced.

The Mystics are WNBA champions!

WNBA Finals Portraits
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Sort of like last year with the Mystics, all I can say is ... man! If you asked me at this time in 2012 if I though the Mystics had a chance to win a WNBA championship, my answer would be “Hell NO!” This is even with Mike Thibault being on the job for just one month.

But things have changed.

Since 2019 is the last year of the decade, I don’t want to be redundant from the summary I wrote about the decade. But here’s what I was most impressed by this squad.

The Mystics weren’t a conventional WNBA superteam like most recent championship squads. And I’ll be brutally honest. The Mystics aren’t a superteam from a “superstar” sense. That said, they ended up being a “superteam” because of their chemistry and drive.

Elena Delle Donne is their lone “box office” player, but she was surrounded by a number of shooters and passers like All-Star guard Kristi Toliver, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. The Mystics also finally had All-Star forward Emma Meesseman return after spending 2018 solely with the Belgium women’s national team for the World Cup.

For most teams, defense wins championships. Even head coach Mike Thibault will tell you that. However, this year’s Mystics team was just average on defense. They however, had an offense that will be hard to beat for years to come. And though I may disagree with Bullets Forever founder Mike Prada on whether she was a “secret weapon,” Meesseman ended up being the “missing piece” for their championship run.

The Mystics were 26-8 in the regular season even with a midseason absence by their star forward. And they had more than enough in the tank to win the WNBA championship. YES!

The Wizards begin a new era of Monumental Basketball

Monumental Basketball Portraits
After a protracted search midyear, Tommy Sheppard was named the Washington Wizards’ new General Manager.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

No quotes needed around Monumental Basketball. It’s not just a marketing term.

Even if you are a Wizards fan who isn’t the biggest Mystics fan because you like another WNBA team more ... or if you just don’t think the Mystics are worth your time ... here’s the bottom line.

The Wizards themselves took notice of the Mystics’ success. As John Wall, Bradley Beal and others mentioned during this fall’s media day, he looks up to the Mystics and their success in recent years. That’s quite a departure from the past, because like today’s youngest WNBA players, today’s youngest NBA players have lived in an era where the WNBA existed and played a larger part in their lives than the players before them.

Still, let me go back to the Wizards’ 2019 calendar year. As Alan Jenkins wrote yesterday, there isn’t that much positive news to write about. Washington finished the 2018-19 NBA season with a 32-50 record and missed the playoffs, even if it did result in the firing of Ernie Grunfeld, something I know most of you are happy about.

The Wizards had a long process to find their next basketball operations leader, even though they ultimately stayed in-house with Tommy Sheppard, who is as PR-friendly as any out there in his line of work. The Wizards have also begun to embrace analytics and build the team around players who have some proven track record (like Rui Hachimura and Admiral Schofield) instead of high-risk, high reward players who often don’t work out in Washington (like JaVale McGee and Kelly Oubre among others).

The current Wizards season is turning out to be close to what I expected. Sure, I expect some upset wins here and there, including the win we saw last Monday against the Miami Heat. However, we also have to realize that this team is injury-depleted at the top and still growing. The rebuilding process can be unpleasant, but hopefully, the peaks are much better than the valleys.

What to expect from the Mystics in 2020?

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics - Game Two
The Mystics won a championship but the next month will determine how long they will remain in position for another.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Mystics are defending champions, but it’s also important that it will be difficult for them to repeat as champions in 2020.

Washington, like other WNBA teams, is about to enter a new collective bargaining agreement. It should be signed before February barring something crazy. If the WNBA offers officially sanctioned breaks in conjunction with FIBA Europe, it would benefit the Mystics. Delle Donne is still in her prime, but Meesseman has also proven that she too, can be a franchise player. More international breaks allow the Mystics to have a seamless passing of the torch from Delle Donne to Meesseman as the franchise player. Washington will still be among the championship favorites for years to come.

Likewise, if the league doesn’t have such breaks, then I think the Mystics’ inevitable decline will be quicker. To be clear, I don’t expect Washington to go from first to worst in one or two seasons, but their ceiling will likely be capped to being a dark horse contender, provided that Delle Donne remains healthy most of the time. As for Meesseman, we shouldn’t be surprised if she decides to sit much of the season because of scheduling conflicts.

What to expect from the Wizards in 2020?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards
John Wall is getting closer to game shape after rupturing his Achilles.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Wizards may be doing poorly in the standings this season, but I’m optimistic things will move up from here.

John Wall has been warming up in games and shows a lot of pep in his step in non-contact situations. Even if Wall returns this season, we shouldn’t expect much from him. However, it will be nice to see Wall’s 2020-21 season begin on a strong note so I can be proven wrong about my general belief that a rebuild means that everyone, including Wall and Beal, have to leave.

The year 2019 was certainly a year of mixed emotions for me. For the Mystics, I was as happy as can be from a WNBA championship, but I also realize that they may not be a contender for that much longer. And for the Wizards, I’m patient with their current rebuilding process, especially knowing how the Mystics’ jump from worst to first was.

Here’s to a successful 2020 for all our teams in the DMV. Happy new year, everyone!