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October Mailbag Part 3: Do the Mystics need to rebuild?

Here is the third and final part of our October mailbag.

Minnesota Lynx v Washington Mystics
Don’t be surprised if Tina Charles (L) isn’t back for the Mystics next season.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Thank you for reading Part 3 of our mailbag. If you haven’t already, please check out the links to the first two parts of our mailbag below!


Can the Mystics find proven free agents, esp. if Tina Charles and Emma Meesseman don’t return and when Elena Delle Donne is still facing back injury issues? (Gregory Peyton)

I think the Mystics have generally punched above their weight finding draft picks or free agents. That said, we have to take a step back and be honest with where the Mystic are at this point in time. They missed the playoffs despite having Tina Charles being the league’s leading scorer. Elena Delle Donne only appeared in three games and Meesseman skipped the season.

Next season, the Mystics still have $922,000 in salaries to pay with a hard salary cap of just under $1.4 million. That total doesn’t include Charles, Leilani Mitchell or Myisha Hines-Allen among others. And that’s before knowing where the Mystics will pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, whether it’s the No. 1 or No. 4 pick.

In short, I don’t think the Mystics can attract top tier unrestricted free agents due to their lack of cap space, unless they start unloading some of their other large contracts, like trading Alysha Clark, for example. Barring an unexpected (but possibly not entirely unexpected) retirement from Elena Delle Donne, they won’t have the room to bring in someone like … WNBA Finals MVP and 2016 first round pick Kahleah Copper, among others.

Is it time for the Mystics to rebuild? (multiple emails)

My last response to Gregory Payton basically answered this question without being direct or blunt. But here’s my direct answer: it’s time for the Mystics to rebuild.

Washington, whether they like it or not, can’t simply hold onto the hope that Delle Donne regains her 2019 form, pre-back injury for multiple years, kind of like how the Wizards were with Gilbert Arenas or John Wall. It’s also best that we consider her insurance policy, Meesseman, no longer on the team, given the Belgian women’s national basketball team’s goal to make the World Cup next year and the fact that they will be relevant on the world stage for the foreseeable future.

Though I was not banking on Meesseman coming back in the hopes of a long playoff run, I was optimistic that we would see a frontcourt of at least Charles and Delle Donne for most of the 2021 season, but again, it wasn’t meant to be. Same goes for Clark’s signing as a potential 3-and-D extraordinaire. Injuries, especially unanticipated ones in Clark’s case this season and Charles’ situation in 2020 are the ones that no one can predict to a T.

Though I believe the Mystics need to rebuild, unlike their team in 2012, they have a solid foundation to start with. Ariel Atkins has been an All-WNBA Defender and an ever-improving scorer since her rookie season in 2018. Myisha Hines-Allen was still a big-time contributor last season after her breakthrough season in the 2020 Florida bubble season (I refuse to say bubble with a “W” in front). Natasha Cloud will still remain a strong perimeter and point guard presence for the next few years. And Delle Donne will always have a spot on this team. Unlike 2012, the last season when it was clear that Washington had to rebuild, the Mystics will have some group to focus their efforts around.

It would be nice to bring WNBA superstars to D.C. in a vacuum next February, but the reality is that they already used much of it with veterans who didn’t pan out, mostly due to injury. These veterans, namely Delle Donne and Clark, could still have great seasons for the Mystics next season. But going forward, the Mystics should focus more heavily around Atkins, Hines-Allen and Cloud, and the future will still be bright with them leading the way in the longer term.