As I wrote yesterday, the WNBA will require all teams to cut rosters to 12 by Tuesday, May 26 so players can start receiving their 2020 season checks on June 1. This is primarily a procedural move.
But with no regular season games scheduled, or any imminent plan to start the season due to the coronavirus, teams will have to start making roster cuts without a training camp.
Also, teams have to consider the complications of non-essential travel bans the United States placed on non-citizens who are in various regions of the world, including the European Union’s Schengen Area and China. Even Canadians are banned for non-essential travel. There is no indication that professional athletes are essential workers so their travel isn’t essential. And most importantly, there is no indication that any of these bans will be lifted by June, or realistically, the rest of this calendar year.
So let’s take a look at the 2020 Mystics roster as it stands today and make some projected cuts to see how the roster looks going forward.
2020 Washington Mystics roster
|Ariel Atkins||G||2 years||USA|
|Tina Charles||C||10 years||USA|
|Natasha Cloud||G||5 years||USA|
|Elena Delle Donne||F||7 years||USA|
|Tianna Hawkins||F||6 years||USA|
|Myisha Hines-Allen||F||2 years||USA|
|Emma Meesseman||F||6 years||Belgium|
|Leilani Mitchell||G||11 years||Australia and USA|
|Aerial Powers||G/F||4 years||USA|
|LaToya Sanders||C||7 years||Turkey and USA|
As of now, the roster is at 14 players, though the team’s website includes just 13, without Lee Suel Kang, who was suspended. Now there aren’t too many decisions left to make.
But who will actually be on the roster once games begin?
Since there is some increased momentum on games happening this summer, likely in the form of an abbreviated season, it’s a completely different matter on how the 12-woman roster will actually look.
Here are the types of players who are likely to be cut and why.
New draft picks are “easier cuts,” especially on a title contender
As mentioned previously, Agnew and Sutton were long shots to make the roster since neither are first round picks. When you’re a draft pick to one of the best rosters in the league, it’s going to be a tough road to make the roster. Still, they are likely going to be on a “short-list” to be called back into action if the Mystics suffer numerous injuries or if a non-American player doesn’t play this season. More about that later.
Kiara Leslie, the Mystics’ first round pick from 2019, made the team last year despite not playing a game due to injury, probably isn’t 100 percent guaranteed to make the roster either. It wouldn’t shock me to see her cut in favor of a more established in-her-prime veteran who becomes available due to waivers. But I’d say her spot is a lot safer since she did make the 2019 team.
Travel bans can make non-American WNBA players, especially Europeans, more expendable. Will they be willing to go through a long quarantine somewhere else?
The Mystics have four players who claim non-American citizenship. But since two of them (Sanders and Mitchell) have American citizenship despite playing in FIBA competition for other countries, we’ll focus on Kang and Meesseman.
Since Kang was signed to a training camp only deal, it’s not difficult to cut her loose. She probably wouldn’t play too many minutes on this team anyway.
That said, Kang has an advantage to make the roster over Meesseman. That advantage? Travel bans, or the lack of them. Kang is presumably in Korea where she isn’t banned from traveling to America in a straight shot flight.
Meesseman is banned because she is in Belgium, a member of the Schengen Area. Barring some unlikely negotiation with the U.S. State Department and the European Union/Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she would have to travel to a third country not in the Schengen Area to circumvent the travel ban.
Let’s assume that Meesseman wants to play for the Mystics this season, regardless of the hurdles. So we’ll create a “more ideal” scenario here. First, she has to go to a country where she won’t be banned as a European which is also a place that isn’t subject to America’s travel ban.
For example, Meesseman can go to Korea, where she faces a state-mandated two-week quarantine at her expense. So during that time, Meesseman probably can’t go out for a run or shoot hoops. Instead, she’ll be stuck at a hotel, where she may be limited in her eating options. From quarantine videos I saw from Australia, it’s doubtful that Meesseman will be offered daily selections of pork belly, bulgogi, Korean style fried chicken and fried mandu. She’s more likely to get daily offerings of miso soup and kimchi jjigae instead.
After this two-week quarantine, Meesseman should stay a bit longer in Korea, which will more-or-less be a period to get closer to game shape. Let’s give her a week. This way, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials can’t turn Meesseman away at the border in America so it’s clear that she spent well over 14 days away from the Schengen Area.
Since the Mystics have Kang and current players who have played there during the winter, perhaps Meesseman could find some workout buddies if gyms are still closed there. After this trip, she can fly from Korea to the United States where she hopefully won’t have to face another lengthy quarantine period.
It’s hard to say what the WNBA will do for its non-American players, especially those in the Schengen Area like Meesseman. And cutting Meesseman would be tough to swallow. She would likely have to get most of the $215,000 salary she signed up for, but it’s also possible that the Mystics may not be able to core her for 2021. She is currently on a one-year contract.
How will the Mystics’ roster look if we see basketball this summer?
Assuming we see WNBA basketball this summer, I think the cuts will ultimately be Kang and one of the 2020 Draft picks. That said, the wild card situation is Meesseman’s roster spot, especially if she doesn’t return due to travel bans. It’s a safer bet to say that she wouldn’t return at this point given the global situation.
Assuming Meesseman doesn’t return, it will be a hit to the Mystics’ 2020 championship hopes, but her departure won’t be a fatal blow this summer. That’s because Washington traded for WNBA All-Star and 2012 Most Valuable Player Tina Charles less than a week before the 2020 WNBA Draft in April. Charles will be “Meesseman insurance” for this exact situation, if and when Meesseman decides not to return. It can also give Agnew or Sutton an opportunity to show what they could do at the pro level.