The WNBA offseason is long. However, we're getting close to free agency and trade time which generally starts in February. Before we get there, each team has a pain point or more to address. The Washington Mystics are no different.
The Mystics had their first winning regular season since 2010 last summer, but they were just 18-16.
And finally, the Mystics still haven't advanced to the second round of the playoffs since 2002. To put things in perspective on how long ago this was, here's what happened in the WNBA and NBA that year. I'll keep the focus on Mystics and Wizards bullet points except for the first one.
- Chinese prospect Yao Ming was the first pick in the NBA Draft that season to the Houston Rockets. The UConn Huskies women's basketball team won the national championship that year. Their top player, Sue Bird was the first pick in the WNBA Draft to the Seattle Storm.
- The Mystics' first draft pick that year was Stacey Dales, who is now a reporter for NFL Network. The Wizards' first draft pick that year was Jared Jeffries.
- Michael Jordan was wearing a Wizards uniform.
- Multiple Wizards and Mystics basketball executives had roles with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2002. Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld was Milwaukee's General Manager. Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault was an assistant coach to start the year. That team also happened to have Wizards assistant coach Don Newman and former assistant coach Sam Cassell was one of the guards on their team.
- Randy Wittman started the year as the Cleveland Cavaliers' head coach.
- Maryland won the NCAA Division I men's basketball national championship. (Okay, I lied about keeping things related solely to the pros, but Juan Dixon was on that team!)
- Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman were in elementary school in New York and Flanders respectively.
- Bradley Beal was also in elementary school in St. Louis. He had a famous babysitter who made musical hits like "Country Grammar," "E.I", and "#1."
- I graduated from high school. Akbar Naqvi was in elementary school.
I think you get the point now. The bottom line is that the Mystics still have work to do for next season and there's plenty of good franchise history to be made.
What are some of the main issues they face this winter before it's time to make trades or free agent signings? Here are their three questions that they will face.
1. Is Kia Vaughn tradeable?
The highlight of the Mystics' personnel was the emergence of their starting power forward and center becoming an All-Star duo. Both Meesseman and Dolson combined to average over 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists. The part of their games that I was most impressed with was that both Meesseman and Dolson shot nearly 50 percent from the three point line.
Their emergence -- especially Dolson's -- is the result of Kia Vaughn missing much of the first half of the season due to injuries. When Vaughn came back, she still managed to average nearly 18 minutes a game but was ultimately a backup.
Though Vaughn finished the 2015 season as a reserve, the Mystics still have a number of frontcourt reserve players, like LaToya Sanders and third-year forward Tianna Hawkins, who missed the season due to having a child. And we didn't even get to second year forward Ally Malott just yet. All of these players need to play a significant amount of minutes and there are only so many for all of them.
The Mystics could use more small forward depth and/or some draft picks. Yes, the Mystics are a young team but the young players are now becoming seasoned veterans themselves. Therefore, I think that Vaughn is someone who the Mystics can trade to another team that needs veteran help in the post.
2. Which young guards stay in Washington long term?
The Mystics had a bumper crop of guards on their 2015 roster. The two players who played the most minutes per game were Ivory Latta and Kara Lawson who played an average of 27.3 and 25 minutes per game respectively.
Like the situation with the low post, the Mystics have a number of young guards who played at least 15 minutes a game including Natasha Cloud and Tayler Hill. Bria Hartley, who was a 2014 WNBA All-Rookie Team player only averaged 12.2 minutes a game in 2015 after suffering a stress fracture injury in her right foot.
Latta signed a long-term deal in the 2014-15 offseason. It's unlikely that she will be traded considering that she was the Mystics' leading scorer for each of the last three seasons. Ultimately, it means that one of the younger guards, whether it is Hill, Hartley, or Cloud will be on the outside looking in when it comes to which players won't be playing regularly in the rotation in 2016.
Considering that all three have started for portions of their careers, it's hard to exactly say who will end up starting with Latta in 2016. However, I do anticipate seeing one of the three players get traded for another piece this winter.
3. Can the Mystics win 20 games in the regular season in 2016 with the bulk of their current roster?
The Mystics started their 2015 season with an 11-6 record the first half of the season but went 7-10 the rest of the way. The stretch I was most disappointed with was a four-game road trip which included three games against Western Conference teams.
While back to back losses to the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks on September 2 and 3 are understandable, an August 30 loss to the Seattle Storm and a September 6 loss to the Atlanta Dream were disappointing to say the least. I think that the Mystics should have enough talent and chemistry to win 20 games or perhaps a little more in 2016.
The key to next summer is to make sure that most of the 2015 Mystics' young core of Meesseman, Dolson, Hill, Hartley, Cloud, Malott, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt stays together and build their leadership skills. Sure, it's nice to have a long-time veteran like Vaughn, Latta, or Lawson around. But the key to seeing how far the Mystics go over the next several seasons doesn't just depend on whether they can have a superstar player or thrive despite not having one. It also depends on the younger players embracing veteran leadership roles on the team right now.