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Roundtable: Five questions on how the Mystics will approach free agency

We go over what the Mystics should do during free agency. And no, we didn’t agree on everything.

WNBA Finals - Game One
Natasha Cloud is a restricted free agent and the Mystics’ most important player to re-sign.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Mystics began negotiating with potential free agents on January 15 and contracts can be signed as early as February 1. The WNBA also had a significant amount of news over the last week. Maya Moore hasn’t exactly recommitted to being with the Lynx this summer while Liz Cambage has demanded a trade from the Dallas Wings.

Washington’s coming out of a franchise-best 2018 season where they made the WNBA Finals. Now, it’s time to see if they can take things up one more notch. I followed the Mystics casually last season but wanted some deeper answers to five questions I had this season, so I got L.W., Albert, Diamond, and Greydy involved. Here’s our roundtable!

Ben Becker: I’ve noticed that two WNBA stars -- Maya Moore and Liz Cambage -- have been in the news and are potentially on the move. Could either end up in D.C.?

L.W.: It’s not impossible, but it would probably take some pressure from either player (for example, if they threatened to sit out unless they were traded to a good situation, and DC was one of a small number of preferred teams). That happens fairly often in the WNBA, but neither Moore or Cambage has been linked to DC in any way (unlike, for example, Elena Delle Donne, where we started hearing rumors and rumblings well before the trade actually happened).

Otherwise it seems like there will be other teams who can probably beat whatever the Mystics can reasonably offer. I don’t see the Mystics giving up Delle Donne, and while they have some good young assets other teams can probably put together better “rebuild starter packages”, which I’m guessing both teams would want.

(Here is an interesting question - if the Lynx rebuild and trade Moore, could Sylvia Fowles also be on the move?)

Diamond Holton: If we’re talking in my dreams then HELL YEAH! But I have to be realistic here unfortunately. I’ll have to say no to Liz Cambage and a slight maybe for Maya Moore. They are big-time names and I’m not saying the Mystics can’t offer anything to get them. But the Mystics just doesn’t have enough clout to get them.

What would be our persuasive pitch? Also, what could we offer in a trade for Moore or Cambage that wouldn’t put a huge hole in our offense? Elena Delle Donne is not up for grabs whatsoever so including her in a possible trade is a no obviously. With Emma Meesseman returning and our squad last season making the Finals, why mess up the chemistry?

Greydy Diaz: Between coaching changes, the WNBA players union opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement with the league, Maya Moore potentially sitting out the 2019 season, and Liz Cambage requesting a trade from the Dallas Wings, it’s been an eventful offseason! I think DC would be crazy to even consider giving up Delle Donne and I just don’t see that happening any time soon. So, I think it would be very difficult to get Cambage or Moore unless the Mystics are willing to give up multiple key players. Don’t count on either of them in DC.

Albert Lee: If the Mystics pick either of the two, Liz Cambage is the most likely of the two to move to Washington since she reportedly asked for a trade. She is an Australian national which means she will miss time for the Olympics and the FIBA Asia tournament. It’s also easier for Washington to make a trade for her because she will miss time some years -- at least until WNBA rules change. That will lower her trade value even though her starpower was at its peak last season.

As for Moore, she is historically quite private with her ambitions, but last season was her first year playing for a team that wasn’t contending for a title. The Lynx will need to rebuild sooner rather than later so she could move to another team. But if we want to play the hometown angle, Moore would want to play for the Atlanta Dream. Having said that, the Mystics still shouldn’t be totally out of her wish list if she wants to get traded.

Ben: I recall Emma Meesseman’s fit and future with this Mystics roster being a topic of discussion last year while she sat out the season and the Mystics excelled. Could she be a part of a package that brought back one of these stars?

Greydy: As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Last season was proof that the Mystics don’t need Emma Meesseman. She should absolutely be offered up in a trade package for Liz Cambage.

L.W. Any package would most certainly center around Meesseman, and the haggling would happen around the sweeteners (you can bet teams would try to get Ariel Atkins, and the Mystics would loath to give her up). Meesseman’s trade value is seriously hurt by the fact that she’ll inevitably miss time due to international commitments. I’m not sure if this is true among front offices, but at least among the general public I think her talent is still pretty underrated.

Albert: If Meesseman were traded for Cambage, you have to hope that Cambage commits more to the WNBA than Meesseman in the short term to make the deal worth it. The Mystics probably don’t have to give up as much for Cambage like they would for Moore. Again, non-American stars have less trade value because of international team commitments.

Also, Meesseman actually looks better than ever after she played at a high level in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup last year. In fact, she played better than Cambage did.

Ben: Would this be a good thing? Would you rather trade for one of these stars or simply add Meesseman to a very good team seemingly on the rise?

Greydy: Getting rid of Meesseman could be a great thing if the Mystics land Cambage in particular. Any opponent would have their hands full dealing with guarding Cambage and Delle Donne simultaneously. Just imagine it.

L.W. If Maya Moore is available, you do everything short of gutting your team to get her. She had a down year last year, but this is a bit like Anthony Davis asking for a trade - putting her on a good team instantly elevates them to contender status.

Moore is a Hall of Fame caliber player, and while not young she’s not yet at the point where you worry too much about her play falling off. Any team that sees themselves trying to contend over the next three-ish years should absolutely be trying to figure out if they have what it takes to get her. I’m not as sold on Cambage because her weakness is the same as Meesseman’s — not being American.

Diamond: I’d say go for it and see what happens using Meesseman as part of a trade for Cambage. That’s because I don’t see Moore coming to Washington unless the proper assets are given. Same goes for Cambage as well.

Albert: Meesseman is just 25 years old and her prime is still at least two or three years ahead of her. Unless an American superstar like Maya Moore or Tina Charles demands a trade to the Mystics, I hold onto Meesseman because she’s already a proven talent and will be better than anyone they have right now.

The Mystics’ front office probably thought about her pending absences well before they happened. It’s not like they thought Belgium wouldn’t be relevant in Europe for Meesseman’s entire professional career.

Ben: What’s the state of the Mystics’ salary cap in terms of being able to add a big talent? Given that top WNBA player salaries are still ridiculously low, I feel silly even asking that question.

Albert: Not a silly question at all. The Mystics have $311,249 in cap space out of a total cap of $976,300. The cap space they have could increase if Meesseman doesn’t return in 2019. And realistically they will get about $55,000 more in cap space because she will miss up to half this season for Women’s EuroBasket.

L.W.: As for free agency priorities, they need to re-sign Natasha Cloud, who will likely command a max, and fill out another 4 or so roster spots. So they wouldn’t have to work too hard to fit in another max free agent after signing Cloud (it would probably mean losing LaToya Saunders however, unless she takes a big pay cut). (Number based off of the High Post Hoops salary database)

Diamond: The Mystics can’t re-sign all their free agents. I think they will bring back TRP and Mo Currie. And Natasha Cloud deserves a max deal going from bench to starter and being the aggressive force Washington needed all season.

Ben: While we are on the subject, when is the WNBA CBA up? Is there any potential for a work stoppage?

L.W. The CBA lasts through 2019. The Players Association has already opted out, and negotiations are ongoing. I have no idea about the potential for a work stoppage - there hasn’t been much reporting on how far apart the two sides are starting.

Greydy: In a piece for The Players’ Tribune, WNBA executive council president and current Los Angeles Sparks player Nneka Ogwumike wrote that she wants young female athletes to grow up dreaming about “the league that I know ours can become. A league that has a fair and consistent work environment. A league that treats its players as the world-class athletes they are. A league that invests in its future. A league that believes in us as much as we believe in it.”

I look forward to seeing some serious changes made even if it means a potential (hopefully shorter rather than longer) work stoppage. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s evident that change is wanted and needed in the WNBA.