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Mike Thibault signs four-year contract extension with the Mystics

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Stewart W. Small

The Mystics signed General Manager Mike Thibault to a four year contract extension on Wednesday, according to Ben Standig of Locked on Wizards. The announcement is essentially a formality:

Thibault is 65-72 over four years with the Mystics, but is 271-206 over his 15 year career, the winningest in league history.

Thibault’s accomplishments from 2013-2016

There are several reasons why the Mystics re-signed him for another four years. They include:

  • Leading the Mystics to three consecutive playoff appearances from 2013-2015. This is the longest stretch of playoff appearances in franchise history.
  • Signing Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn as free agents. in the 2012-13 offseason. Latta and Vaughn became the team’s veteran leaders during the first four years of Thibault’s tenure. Vaughn was traded in January 2017.
  • Three of the four rookies on his 2013 team: Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt are still on the Mystics, and all are starters on the 2017 team.
  • Trading Crystal Langhorne for the 7th pick in the draft, Bria Hartley and Tianna Hawkins on the day of the 2014 WNBA Draft. Hartley would go on to be an All-Rookie player that year, and Hawkins would gradually develop into a key reserve in D.C..
  • Going back to the Langhorne trade, it allowed Emma Meesseman to start — perhaps earlier than anticipated. She would become an All-Star in 2015.
  • Stefanie Dolson, the 6th overall pick in 2014, was an All-Star in 2015.
  • Drafting and developing multiple non-first round draft picks who became regular starters at some point in the last four years: Meesseman (19th pick, 2013), Ruffin-Pratt (undrafted, 2013), Natasha Cloud (15th pick, 2015).
  • I didn’t forget: The Elena Delle Donne trade and Kristi Toliver free agency signings.

Don’t hold Thibault’s Mystics record against him

There’s one knock some will put on Thibault: his 65-72 record. I’ll admit that that is mediocre in a vacuum. But it’s important for us to look at the composition of the roster during his time here. That’s when you can appreciate the job he has done drafting and developing many of the players who you see on the team today.

When he started, Thibault relied heavily on a trio of Langhorne, swingman Monique Currie, and guard Matee Ajavon to lead the Mystics to a playoff appearance in 2013. Just one year earlier, these three were the core foundation of a 5-29 team. A 12 win improvement in just one season is not easy to do, even if the 2012 team was arguably a little better than its final record. At any rate, the 2013 season helped Thibault win his third WNBA Coach of the Year Award.

After the 2013 season, the roster has evolved to a point where a much younger group of Meesseman, Dolson, Hill, Ruffin-Pratt, and Cloud — all homegrown Mystics draft picks/signings — were the core foundation. Isn’t that something we wish the Wizards would have? Just saying.

And I’ll say this again: Thibault was able to do all of this without a 1st or 2nd overall draft pick from any year at any time from 2013-2016. Furthermore, the 2016 team had no 1st, 2nd, or 3rd pick from any year. Every other WNBA team had at least two Top 3 picks from any year. Therefore, it’s remarkable that Thibault never had a sub 10 win season given the roster transformation over these last four years.

How we should judge Thibault these next four years

The first four years of the Thibault Era in Washington were about laying down the culture of a winning organization. That consisted of drafting multiple young players who would be here for years to come, and playing selfless basketball where the team can beat anyone, any night. With the exception of 2014, the Mystics defeated the Lynx at least once every season except 2014, and swept them in 2013 and 2015!

Now, the young players Thibault drafted are the foundation and veteran leaders. The system Thibault built the last four years attracted a former MVP like Delle Donne and an All-Star guard like Toliver to play in Washington as well. When teams acquire All-Star talent like them, the expectations will be to win a championship over the next four years.

It will be tough for the Mystics will win the championship this year because it takes time for teams to gel together. However, the timing of the Delle Donne and Toliver signings align with the age of the core, where Meesseman, Hill, and Ruffin-Pratt are entering their prime. The best days in Washington are in sight. There’s no better coach to lead this specific group than Mike Thibault.