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Mystics 2017 season preview part 1: Our staff picks on the “winners” and “losers” of last offseason

Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics dribbles the ball against Monique Currie of the San Antonio Stars. NBA/Getty Images

The Mystics’ offseason is all but complete. The big trades have been made, the draft picks have been signed, and it’s time to see how everything plays out.

Let’s go through this season’s winners, losers, and one player who we’ve debated on:

The Winners

Olympics: Basketball-Women's Team-Preliminary Round CAN vs USA Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, the Mystics had an excellent offseason, so there’s no shortage of winners. Let’s go through them below:

Elena Delle Donne

Delle Donne wanted an opportunity to carve her destiny and play for a club closer to home. The Mystics may have been superstar-less for over a decade, but Mike Thibault has built this team to be ready for that moment when a superstar is available. There’s no doubt that Delle Donne could see how well the Mystics’ young player were developing while playing for the Sky.

The development of Emma Meesseman, Tayler Hill, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Natasha Cloud, and others certainly played a major influencing role toward her request to be traded specifically to Washington, instead of just a trade in and of itself. Now, Delle Donne has that chance to be the Mystics’ franchise savior. - Albert

Kristi Toliver

Kristi Toliver has had a lot of ups and downs in her career. She was a hero at Maryland tying up the 2006 national championship game with a clutch three before the Terps eventually won in overtime against the Duke Blue Devils:

Toliver was drafted third overall but spent her first two seasons (with Chicago and then Los Angeles) coming off the bench. She was a full-time starter by 2012, and while her numbers were good, the team as a whole were the WNBA’s chronic underachievers: Stacked with talent, but unable to get past conference giants Minnesota and Phoenix to even play in the finals.

Of course, the Los Angeles Sparks flipped the narrative last year and won the championship. Toliver returns to the region that adored her in college as a champion, to play for a Mystics team that is younger and deeper than the one she left in L.A., but arguably almost as talented at the top. With a little luck, Toliver will be a fixture in the postseason for many years to come. - Lyndie

Monumental Sports sales

The Mystics used to fill the stands well, though it was partly because Abe Pollin gave away a ton of free tickets. But Mystics crowds have remained very small since Thibault took over as head coach in 2013, in part because they couldn’t get EDD in the draft that year, and in part because Trudi Lacey, Thibault’s predecessor did a very bad job. The looming news of the Mystics moving to St. Elizabeth’s isn’t helping either.

EDD’s arrival should give attendance a significant boost this season as Washington should get back to the postseason. Though this is bad news for the Wizards, it appears that the practice facility (and Mystics’ new home) will be delayed since no major construction has started yet on the St. Elizabeth’s site. That’s music to the Mystics sales department’s ears, because it gives them another season to fill up Verizon Center with EDD as their number one selling point. - Albert

Maryland Terrapins Women’s Basketball

Brenda Frese’s program hasn’t made it past the Sweet 16 in the past two seasons - an underachievement for a team who has been a women’s hoops power for the past decade. But one thing the Terps have going for them is a WNBA pipeline.

There were six Maryland players in the league last season and two more - Brionna Jones and SWK - were taken in the top 10 of this year’s draft.

Maybe the Terps won’t beat UConn anytime soon, but having a reputation for turning players into pro’s is a big tool that Freese can use in recruiting.

She won’t have to turn recruits heads too far - Freese can point to D.C. where SWK will be knocking down catch-and-shoot three’s from EDD feeds this season. - Mitch

The WNBA news cycle

The WNBA season happens only during the late spring and summer, so it’s out of most people’s minds during the NBA season in the winter. Free agency happens in February, but the only movement surrounds complementary players, not foundational stars. The Delle Donne news has made following the WNBA more than just a spring and summer time affair, which is good for the league as a whole. - Albert

Mystics fans

If you’re a Wizards fan reading this blog, I totally feel your pain. I’m right there with you guys. We’ve never seen the Wizards make the Conference Finals as of the time of this posting since ... 1979.

If you’re a Mystics fan, whether you’re also a Wizards fan or not, things have historically been quite rough. The team has rarely had strong regular seasons. And when the Mystics had truly bad seasons, the lottery wouldn’t let them select some of the best players in WNBA history.

The Delle Donne acquisition is a reversal of the franchise’s fortunes. It gives Mystics fans hope that they could win a title sooner rather than later. - Albert

Does Emma Meesseman come out “ahead” this season?

Emma Meesseman is about to pass the ball on a fast break. Stewart W. Small

Meesseman was the Mystics’ best player for each of the last three seasons before Delle Donne was acquired. To be fair to her, it’s not a bad thing that she’s the “second best” player on the team. It’s just that Delle Donne is really, really, really good.

We disagreed on whether Meesseman is a “winner” or “loser” in light of Delle Donne’s arrival. I think she will be a loser in terms of her personal growth, while L.W. and Elle disagree and believe she’s still a winner.

Why Meesseman “loses” - If the Mystics struggle in the first half of the season, Meesseman is bound to get some of the heat this season because of her pending EuroBasket Women absence.

And if the Mystics hit the ground running without her, Meesseman will be under-appreciated because of the team’s new moves and the apparent commitment to regional talent in town.

Even back home in Belgium, their folks probably aren’t thrilled to see her in D.C. for four regular season games. What if she gets hurt between now and late May? And even if she doesn’t, this is Belgium’s first EuroBasket in 10 years.

It’s admirable that Meesseman is doing what she can to be available for the Mystics and the Belgian national team to the extent possible. But I do think she’s going to be taken for granted if they do well, and blamed a bit unfairly if they do not. - Albert

Counterpoint #1 — why Meesseman is still a winner: I think Meesseman is the perfect “1b” player to have on a team. With EDD joining the squad to take on the “1a” role we’ll stop talking about how Meesseman needs to be more aggressive, or needs to develop more of a superstar attitude, and instead marvel at her crazy efficiency and ability to fit in with high-usage players like Delle Donne and Toliver. - Lyndie

Counterpoint #2 — why Meesseman is still a winner: I totally beg to differ with Albert. There are no ‘losers’ on the Mystics. This is a total win-win. No one considers this year anything other than ‘gelling’. Meesseman not abandoning the Mystics altogether at the beginning of the season. This means she will be here in a few days, to practice and play the opener, speaks volumes regarding her commitment, and her contribution to winning. - Elle

Is Mike Thibault really a clear winner?

Another figure who we didn’t unanimously agree with as a winner or loser was Mike Thibault. Mitch explains why he doesn’t see Thibault as a clear winner, while I have a counterpoint to that:

Why it’s not clear Thibault “wins” - Thibault is only a “winner” if he actually wins. But he’s in the best position of his career since arriving in Washington.

It’s easy to argue that he has never had a star during his tenure as the Mystics coach - Dolson and Meesseman are fine players and have been All-Stars, but neither carry the stardom that EDD does.

Thibault has the WNBA’s best player on his roster now, so his job could be easier. He now has a go-to scorer. He has someone to draw double-teams to make Emma Meesseman and Tayler Hill more efficient than ever before. Now, he has a focal point in the offense with EDD

But again, expectations are high. If the Mystics don’t make a deep playoff run very soon, much of the blame for why that didn’t happen could fall on his shoulders. - Mitch

Counterpoint — why Thibault is a winner: Thibault has won the most regular season games of any WNBA coach. However, like Mitch said, he never had a franchise star to build around until now. The fact that he was able to get EDD and follow that up by signing Toliver is enough for me to make him a “winner” right now.

Thibault has also explained to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel recently that it takes time for any team to develop chemistry together. - Albert

The Losers

Belgium’s opportunities to promote Meesseman in D.C.

When Meesseman was the best player on the Mystics -- which is most of the last four years -- the Belgian Embassy or other Belgian groups should have pulled more stops to promote Meesseman in Washington like their Polish counterparts have done for Marcin Gortat.

It’s a missed opportunity now because this team is now Delle Donne’s so it’s not like Belgium can proudly say, “We’re the home of the Mystics’ franchise player,” at least for now.

Also, Meesseman’s missing some time this year for EuroBasket Women. These absences could be an annual ordeal going forward if Belgium becomes a top tier European team which will only make such a thing more difficult.

It’s never too late to have a “Belgian Heritage Night” of course, but I’m disappointed that they aren’t doing what other European countries are for Wizards players. - Albert

That said, with one, maybe two more seasons at the Phone Booth before the new facility is finished, we may have a few waffle nights! - Elle

Stefanie Dolson

She is no EDD of course, but Dolson is still the biggest piece from the EDD deal, so expectations for her to perform better will be high. Dolson had a down year in 2016 until the last few games, so the Sky’s hoping that she’ll bounce back to her 2015 form. Either way, the Sky’s in rebuild mode now, and that’s a challenging situation for a player who is about to enter her prime. - Albert

Big Mama Stef has a super opportunity to have a bigger role in Chicago than she had in D.C. when she was an All-Star. Will she take it? It’s up to her and the Sky, but from what I see, she is fitting in with her new teammates. Should be fun to see their chemistry when the Mystics play them in a week or so. - Elle

Center depth

Before the Mystics began this offseason, they had Dolson and Kia Vaughn as their centers. Both were capable of starting any night. I felt that a trade was going to happen involving one of the two regardless of the EDD signing. I was a bit surprised that both of them had to go in order for it to happen. Now, it looks like Meesseman may have to play here most or all of the time. I’m not sure if that’s her natural position in the WNBA at least. - Albert

Chicago Sky fans

They’re arguably the WNBA’s biggest losers this past offseason. After having Delle Donne for the last four years, now they’re about to experience life the way Mystics fans have for over a decade. Hopefully, they won’t have to wait over a decade for their next superstar, whoever she is. - Albert


In Part 2, we will go over the team’s opening roster for their first game against the Stars on Sunday, major team-level questions they face this summer, and whether we should buy the championship hype.