Today, I was going to publish a piece I had about the strategy the Washington Mystics would likely take heading toward the draft. I wasn’t surprised that the Mystics would trade the No. 12 pick away in a weak draft, Sabrina Ionescu aside. But I was surprised that they would be able to use that pick and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to land Tina Charles from the New York Liberty.
My first reaction? WHAT. A. STEAL!
Then I literally stopped the presses. I scrapped the post on the WNBA Draft which was going to be published at 12 p.m. I then delayed Matt Modderno’s post on wing players whom the Washington Wizards could pick in second round of the 2020 NBA Draft (and here’s his post from yesterday on wing players who could be picked in the first round). And I also had to delay our staff’s answers to the April mailbag. The answers will be published on Friday, April 17.
This Mystics trade is a big freaking deal, even if sports were going on like normal! Alright, that’s when I started writing about this topic.
There are two different takeaways on the Charles trade to Washington. One gives a rosy view that Washington is now dynasty-bound. The other I think is more pessimistic, but plausible nevertheless. And no, I’m not going to say that the Mystics have to rebuild after 2021.
Anyways, let’s break down the schools of thought!
Takeaway No. 1: The Mystics could have a dynastic frontcourt trio!
The Mystics already have 2019 WNBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne coming back on a long term contract. They have 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman for at least one more year. Now, they’re adding two-time MVP Tina Charles? And she still has plenty left in the tank?
Let’s forget about the coronavirus pandemic and think about a Delle Donne-Meesseeman-Charles frontcourt. All three can score at the basket and from three. All three are willing passers. And all three can play multiple forward positions, especially Delle Donne.
I know, the NBA is no longer a “back-to-the-basket” center league while the WNBA still relies more on frontcourt foundations. But it’s not like Delle Donne, Meesseman or Charles are all back-to-the-basket players who don’t shoot anywhere further than 10 feet away.
Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault focused on this in the team’s press release earlier today. All legitimate points. I want to see this frontcourt be a reality this summer! But we are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and the Mystics have a key player who is weary on whether to keep playing in the WNBA altogether.
Takeaway 2: Charles could be Emma Meesseman’s replacement or “insurance policy.”
There could be another reason why the Mystics acquired Charles besides the nightmare matchups the Mystics would create. The move could be a form of “insurance” in the event that Emma Meesseman doesn’t return to the Mystics after the 2020 season. And Charles could also serve as “Meesseman insurance” in case the Belgian doesn’t return this summer.
As we noted last winter, Meesseman signed a one-year contract extension which forces her and the team to face a moment of reckoning. Will Meesseman sign another long-term deal to be the team’s franchise player as Delle Donne heads into the twilight of her career? Or will she focus full-time on UMMC Ekaterinburg, her Russian team and the Belgian women’s national team during the summers?
If I had to bet on what Meesseman does, even if the 2020 WNBA season happened without a pandemic, I’m leaning toward the latter. It’s important that the Mystics plan for Meesseman’s retirement (or departure if you would rather call it that), even if she ultimately chooses to play just in the WNBA going forward. And that’s why Charles’ addition is so important.
Yes, Charles will be 32 years old this season while Meesseman will only be 27 this month. However, Charles is one of the best possible replacements for Meesseman, especially if she doesn’t return this season, assuming the 2020 WNBA season happens altogether.
That’s because Meesseman would probably have complications traveling to the United States from Belgium, where she is at the moment. First, there just aren’t many flights between Europe and the USA due to the pandemic. And second, the United States imposed a non-essential travel ban on all non-American citizens and permanent residents who have been in the European Union’s Schengen Zone within 14 days of their scheduled arrival to the US. Belgium is one of the countries in the Schengen Zone.
Meesseman is almost definitely not a permanent resident and professional athletes aren’t essential workers. Therefore, she’s effectively banned from the United States. It should also be noted that Americans are banned from going to the Schengen Zone for similar reasons.
Meesseman could get around this ban if she can go to a country that isn’t subject to the American travel ban, spend at least two weeks in that country, and then go to the USA to play in the WNBA, assuming Schengen Zone citizens aren’t banned themselves. But I’m not sure how plausible that scenario is. Therefore, it makes sense for the Mystics to get a superstar frontcourt player as Meesseman’s replacement right now, since there is a possibility that there will be some games played, even if fans aren’t in the stands.
Bottom line: the Mystics are going all-in for championships in 2020 and 2021
In D.C., we’ve become conditioned to believe that trading young players for older ones is a bad move. Ernie Grunfeld did that many times with the Wizards.
In the Mystics’ case, they are defending champions and must take full advantage of their window right now. At some point, Washington’s cupboard of talent will be bare and it will be time to rebuild. But it’s more than just fine for them to trade their first round draft pick from this year, all of their picks for next year AND Shatori Walker-Kimbrough for Charles. In fact, this is the type of move the Mystics need to make to keep their championship hopes alive.
Yes, the Mystics have a potentially dynastic frontcourt with Charles, especially if Meesseman returns this year and many more. But there’s a very good chance that Meesseman’s last WNBA moment was last October when she carried the team to their first championship. Without a clear replacement for Meesseman going forward, it’s safe to say that the Mystics’ championship window closed before they could defend the title.
Though Charles may be several years older than Meesseman, the Mystics don’t have the luxury of trying to extend their championship window. Many other teams are stockpiling their youth or younger veterans to be in position to take them down this season.
Washington wants more than one more championship in the Elena Delle Donne era and they shouldn’t let the pandemic be why they couldn’t make another run at one more. A trade like today’s sends the right message to all fans and the league that the Mystics aren’t resting on their laurels when basketball starts up once again.