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What do the Mystics face if the 2020 WNBA season is cancelled?

The Mystics may face waning fan interest and they still could lose Emma Meesseman for good. However, there’s also a big 2020 and 2021 rookie class which can allow Washington to add more young talent.

NBA Announces Possible Re-Opening Of Team Practice Facilities Starting In May
The Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington was intended to be a crowded, raucous place. Even after the pandemic ends, don’t expect the Mystics to have a packed house because of social distancing and fear among the public.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a world without the coronavirus, the Washington Mystics would have started training camp last Monday, April 26. Then, things get interesting because of this very bizarre dream I had earlier this week. So here it is while it’s relatively fresh in my mind.

On Tuesday, April 27, our lead reporter Greydy Diaz and Editor-at-Large Diamond Holton would have traveled to the team’s practice facility in Congress Heights for Media Day.

After asking reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne questions about the prognosis of her back injury and the newly-acquired Tina Charles on how it feels like to be on Mike Thibault’s squad again while having to shout over a ton of reporters asking painfully vanilla questions, they then headed toward Emma Meesseman, the reigning Finals MVP.

Meesseman was surrounded by a smaller group of reporters, all from her native Belgium, where she answered the same two or three questions about the Belgium women’s national basketball team or UMMC Ekaterinburg, her overseas team in Russia. For whatever reason, they’re not asking her many, if any, questions about the Mystics.

Looking visibly annoyed, Meesseman quickly went to simple one word answers like “Ja of Nee,” or “Oui ou Non.”

(Sorry Angèle Van Laeken, that last phrase I wrote was literal, not a reference à la chanson préférée d’Emma!

But I digress.)

Maybe there was something else on Meesseman’s mind last Tuesday.

After being the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP last October, and winning the 2019-20 EuroLeague Women Final Four and the tournament’s MVP award despite having Brittney Griner AND a post-Achilles injury Breanna Stewart, she STILL gets overlooked by the reporters, especially here in America. Some of whom just assume that Charles will start over her ... just because?

Greydy and Diamond, noticing that something was on Meesseman’s mind, wanted a scoop. Diamond grabbed the camera she brought for YouTube purposes, while Greydy confidently walked toward Meesseman and the Belgian group.

Soon after arriving, Greydy asked, “Emma, you just won your second EuroLeague Women Final Four MVP with UMMC, not missing a beat since beasting in the WNBA playoffs last fall despite being a backup. This year, people think you can be the league MVP. Is that your goal for 2020?”

“Greydy, thank you for being the FIRST PERSON to ask me about my goal with the Mystics this season,” Emma replied. “First, there’s no way in hell I’m backing up anyone or I wouldn’t have re-signed. Second, you’re damn right I want to be WNBA MVP in 2020! And I’ll be the Finals MVP too ‘cuz WE’RE REPEATING, DAMN IT!”

Meesseman then faced the camera Diamond held and yelled, “LIZ CAMBAGE, you think I NEED MILK?” while flexing her right bicep. “WHO ARE YOU? I’M THE CHAMP! I’M THE MVP! I WALK THE WALK! ALL YOU DO IS TALK! IT IS ON!!!!”

Natasha Cloud, who overheard Meesseman’s outburst, ran toward her and looked at Diamond’s camera. “OHHHHH SNAP! THE BELGIAN BEAST HAS BEEN UNLEASHED! LIZ, WE ARE COMING!! WE TOLD ‘YA NOT TO PISS HER OFF!!!!”

And after that ..... I woke up. This hypothetical and dramatic Mystics Media Day made no sense. Yet it felt so real. I wanted to go out and go to battle with the Mystics!

That’s when I also felt sad. Because this was all a dream.

So let’s get to the facts.

There is no Mystics training camp this week. Washington, D.C. is under a stay-at-home order until at least May 15 due to COVID-19. And the 2020 WNBA season is delayed indefinitely.

And while Meesseman did win an All-EuroLeague Women First Team honor earlier this week with UMMC, all FIBA Europe competitions are suspended. There will likely be no EuroLeague Women champion for the 2019-20 season.

The 2019-20 NBA season is heading toward a near-inevitable cancellation, even though the league is trying to see if anything sticks, without any success. The NBA is trying to see if teams can open practice facilities for individual workouts, and even these plans are going awry.

Assuming this NBA season is cancelled, the WNBA season will almost definitely cancel their season as well. It’s unlikely that the NBA would continue playing games, even in a “bubble city” while the WNBA doesn’t at all.

And though I’m sympathetic with Power Plays’ Lindsay Gibbs proposing a “head start” for women’s sports in a post-coronavirus world, I don’t see any organized sports happening this summer when many American states’ lockdowns could be in place beyond June. Still, I think Gibbs’ idea is an interesting one that merits discussion in another piece.

So, what could the impact be on the Mystics specifically if the 2020 WNBA season is cancelled? Here are some possible consequences.

Mystics fan interest could wane

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Five
The Mystics have gained a lot of fans because they are winning lots of games. But with a two year hiatus, it can hurt their momentum.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The WNBA has become a more popular league in Washington over the past three years since Delle Donne came to town. Basketball fans want to watch a winning product on the floor. The Mystics are doing just that, where they averaged 22 wins each regular season since 2017.

Even though things are trending up on the court, the most important thing for the WNBA’s momentum is continuous coverage. Unfortunately, their league has a short regular season over the summer months. If the season is cancelled, there may be no games until May 2021, where it would be 20 months since the Mystics played a game. That’s a really long time.

Emma Meesseman may decide not to return to the WNBA in 2021. If so, the Mystics’ championship window shortens considerably.

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Five
If Emma Meesseman never returns to the WNBA, it would be sad. But at least she left on top.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

I get that Meesseman doesn’t want to be the Mystics’ franchise player from a marketing standpoint, perhaps because she truly is very humble. And she would never say anything like that wacky dream I had. But Meesseman is their best player in my opinion, and their most important player if Washington expects to contend for the next several years.

That said, the coronavirus pandemic puts life into perspective. Things like WNBA championships may not matter so much anymore.

The Finals MVP has made no attempt to hide that she puts Belgium first before Washington, D.C., even if she calls the DMV her “second home.” If the 2020 WNBA season doesn’t happen, she could reconsider whether to play here in 2021, assuming the Olympics happen at all. It’s unclear whether WNBA contracts are deferred for 2021 if the 2020 season is cancelled or if the Mystics have to sign her again.

Assuming Meesseman decides not to return to the WNBA, the reason would be simple. The WNBA’s schedule doesn’t fit in with European national teams’ like Belgium’s. It would be a pain for her to miss parts of the WNBA season or training periods with the Belgian Cats and not be fully utilized.

On the other hand, UMMC’s schedule doesn’t conflict with Belgium’s. And Meesseman will get a higher paycheck in Ekaterinburg than she ever will in the W, even if the new CBA works out to be a significant win-win for the players and the league.

Meesseman will only be 27 this calendar year where she is hitting the beginning of her prime. Other key Mystics players like Delle Donne and Charles are in their 30s and are closer to the end of their primes.

If the Mystics expect to be contenders for the longer term, Meesseman must be a central part of the picture, especially as Delle Donne begins to decline. After her back injury last year and surgery last January, that decline may have already begun.

I know people are comparing the two directly since they were both in the 2013 Draft class, but age is the ultimate factor to consider when we look at a “championship window.” Meesseman was just 19 when she was drafted by Washington and never missed a game due to injury. Delle Donne was 23 when she was drafted by the Chicago Sky, the first team she played for. EDD never played an entire 34-game regular season due to various injuries.

Ultimately, if Meesseman decides to call it quits in the W by 2021, the Mystics may only have one year left to contend with an EDD-Charles duo. Washington doesn’t have many proven young players left besides Ariel Atkins. Ultimately, they have to start rebuilding again in the near future.

The Mystics could be “buyers” in a waiver market in 2021 due to TWO incoming draft classes

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Five
Don’t worry. Mike Thibault will guide the ship just fine for 2021. And since the Mystics only have one rookie class for the next two years, it can offer them an opportunity to add more talent.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

If the 2020 WNBA season is cancelled, there will still be a 2021 WNBA Draft which could double the number of rookies entering the league. It is unclear how a 2021 WNBA Draft order will go if there are no games played in 2020.

I don’t see roster sizes going up to accommodate two rookie classes in 2021. Instead, what will likely happen is that most WNBA teams will have to weigh the pros and cons of adding possibly twice as many rookies to their rosters. Inevitably, many good players will be cut in training camp because of this.

The Mystics do not have any 2021 WNBA Draft picks after the Charles acquisition, so they only have two picks coming into camp from the 2020 Draft in Jaylyn Agnew and Sug Sutton. Both are long shots to make the roster.

But since there will probably be many good players who will get cut from other teams due to a bloated 2020 and 2021 rookie class, this could offer Washington an opportunity to get more solid contributors. Some could be younger players on rookie scale contracts, which would help keep the Mystics under the cap.

I would love to write more about rotations and how the Mystics will repeat as champions in 2020. But at the same time, I don’t see this season happening.

If the 2020 WNBA season is cancelled, I just hope everyone who pledged to come back this year, does for 2021. And you never know, maybe a future Mystics Media Day will have that “RAH! RAH!” moment from players whom you least expect!