Tonight, the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces face off in Game 3 of the 2020 WNBA Finals. It will be on at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The Storm lead two games to none in this series. If they win, which seems likely given how they’ve thoroughly outmatched Vegas, Seattle will win their fourth championship in franchise history and their second in three years.
Breanna Stewart is poised to win her second WNBA Finals MVP award while Sue Bird seems to be improving her point guard skills (and she will be 40 on the 16th of this month)! Jewell Loyd is, in my opinion, a bit underrated among the league’s guards. Natasha Howard’s scoring isn’t where it was last season, but she remains a solid rebounding presence while Alysha Clark has become one of the best defenders in the league.
The Storm’s bounce back season in 2020 after losing Bird and Stewart to injury last year has been amazing. And if Seattle wins the title this year, I also think it will solidify their place as the WNBA’s next dynasty.
Even if Bird retires after this season (she almost definitely won’t with the Olympics next year), Seattle still has Jordin Canada (7.9 ppg, 5.5 apg in the regular season) ready to take the starting point guard role at a moment’s notice. This team’s championship window is more than just open. They’ll be on top of their game for at least the next several years since Stewart is just 26, Loyd is 27 and Canada is 25. Howard will only be 30 on Sept. 2, next year.
That leads me to ask two questions.
Is the Mystics’ 2019 WNBA championship going to be viewed with an asterisk because Breanna Stewart missed last season?
I’m going to be unpopular for saying this. But while I don’t think non-Mystics fans will put an asterisk on their 2019 championship, I think basketball historians will view it as a “one time deal” when Elena Delle Donne and friends were able to sneak in a title, right before or during a dynastic period for the Storm. It will be looked at in a light like the Indiana Fever’s 2012 WNBA championship when All-Star forward Tamika Catchings received her only title during the Minnesota Lynx’s reign for most of the early 2010s.
Our own Diamond Holton believes that the Mystics would have beaten a Stewie and Bird-led Storm in the 2019 Finals. But the Storm’s run this season is hardening my stance as to why I don’t think the Mystics would have been champions if Stewart were healthy.
Let’s just look at the 2019 Mystics team for a bit. Besides Delle Donne, there were no true A-list superstars. Yes, Kristi Toliver was an All-Star last season and Emma Meesseman made the team back in 2015, but I never thought they were a team with the talent of the aforementioned Maya Moore-led Lynx teams of the 2010s or even the Candace Parker-led Los Angeles Sparks teams in 2015 and 2016.
This isn’t to say that the 2019 Mystics were never meant to be championship contenders. They were, they won it all, and we are all happy that they did. The Mystics last year just weren’t expected to be THE favorite like Seattle this year or in 2018.
How much more time do the Mystics have left to win a title with their current core players?
I’d say they have another year or two left to make a serious run for it with the current core group of players who were part of the 2019 championship team.
Delle Donne will be 32 in 2021 and they will need to convince as many of their key players from 2019 to come back, including Natasha Cloud and Aerial Powers. The Mystics have to manage their salary cap very carefully over the next two seasons to keep their top performers while also keeping an eye on the future.
Though some of their younger players like Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen will return, they still need to balance their futures with re-signing former WNBA MVP Tina Charles. She was traded to Washington before the 2020 WNBA Draft and didn’t play due to coronavirus concerns.
And finally, do they want to bring Meesseman back for at least one more year after she had a setback? Will she or Charles, or both take a pay cut from a maximum annual salary in the ballpark of $200,000?
If the Mystics can bring most of their key contributors from 2019 back for 2021, they will be a championship contender. However, they probably won’t be the No. 1 choice of most pollsters in the preseason.
None of this is meant to imply that the Mystics need to blow it up and start over like they did before the 2013 season when General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault took over. But the Mystics players we see on the court are probably going to look very different from 2022 on once Atkins and Hines-Allen get their sophomore contracts.
Maybe I’m pessimistic about the Mystics and where their 2019 championship fits in league history. But it seems that way at the moment.
Anyway, let’s celebrate that the Mystics are still the reigning champions, and enjoy some great basketball tonight.