The Washington Mystics, like all other WNBA teams, are now free to negotiate contracts with free agents. The WNBA has listed cored and free agent players, so let’s break it down here.
Who are the Mystics’ key free agents?
Emma Meesseman, Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver are all unrestricted free agents heading into the 2020 season. All three earned a max salary in 2019, but it isn’t feasible for all three to do so again without major changes to the roster.
Was anyone cored from Washington?
Surprisingly, no. The only players who were cored were Tina Charles by the New York Liberty, Skylar Diggins-Smith by the Dallas Wings and Brittney Griner by the Phoenix Mercury.
Which free agent is Washington’s top priority?
Many, if not most WNBA fan sites will say that Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver are Washington’s top priorities.
I disagree. The Mystics’ priority should be to re-sign Emma Meesseman.
Meesseman is their only All-Star caliber player who is under 30 years old. She’ll be just 27 years old this calendar year and is entering her prime. Delle Donne and Toliver are both on the wrong side of 30 and will only decline physically going forward.
Also, I will take Delle Donne and Toliver for granted because of their actions, in a good way.
Delle Donne forced her way to the nation’s capital, won a title here and wears D.C. on her sleeve. Toliver came back to Washington on her own volition, and now coaches the Wizards on David Adkins’ player development staff. I just don’t see her signing with another team and have peculiar conversations with the Wizards’ players for the rest of this season.
Meesseman, on the other hand, is unapologetic that she considers Belgium and Ieper, her home and favorite place to visit when she’s not playing basketball. She said that to Sporza, a Belgian Dutch language sports site, and even to me while I was in Ieper last November.
She may like or even love Washington, D.C. And yes, she loves the Mystics. But ultimately, Meesseman doesn’t consider the DMV home. And even with the new WNBA CBA, it’s not like the league will pause the season for Women’s EuroBasket. That could be enough to keep Meesseman from returning, regardless of the new benefits and relative creature comforts of the new agreement.
With all that said, the Mystics need to do whatever they can to convince Meesseman that their organization is the best professional team for her moving forward.
Why would the Mystics hold up on re-signing Meesseman?
Most likely, Washington General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault is waiting to see what happens to Belgium in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament before addressing her. The Belgium women’s national basketball team has a chance to clinch their first berth this Feburary. It’s likely that the Mystics have already planned this out and will approach Meesseman with various options whether Belgium makes it to Tokyo or not.
Washington could also be pondering on whether Meesseman will be willing to take less than the maximum, especially as free agency negotiations are going on. If Washington can sign her early on at a significant discount (ex - she signs for $150,000 instead of a possible $215,000 paycheck in 2020), that could allow Washington to bring in another impact player, especially if Delle Donne and/or Toliver sign for under the max in an effort to keep Washington’s 2019 core together.
Ultimately, will Meesseman re-sign with Washington? And will her role grow?
There’s no doubt that the Mystics need and want Meesseman to come back. And in an ideal world to Mystics fans, Meesseman will just play professionally in America, where she could be a realistic MVP contender if the stars align just right. That would be huge for European WNBA fans and players who may consider playing here in the United States.
But as good as Meesseman is, she isn’t just unapologetically Belgian. She is also reluctant to grab the spotlight outside of her national team. So I’m not sure if Meesseman really wants to be the first European player to truly hit it big in the WNBA.
With the new CBA, the WNBA’s schedule still going to clash against the Belgian national team’s, at least as long as Meesseman wishes to play for her country. And even if Russia isn’t home, UMMC still plays in a professional system that she is more comfortable with, since their schedule will not interfere with the Belgian national team’s for things like Women’s EuroBasket qualifiers.
My feeling is that Meesseman will still play in the WNBA and perhaps she will return this season. But she will likely have a role that’s limited to sixth woman and as an “Elena Delle Donne insurance policy.” That’s because she will continue to miss significant portions of WNBA seasons as long as Belgium remains relevant in international play. We will find out soon enough in early February whether Belgium makes the Olympics, which should answer the question regarding Meesseman’s availability this season.