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WNBA Free Agency 2021: Natasha Cloud and Emma Meesseman aren’t signed yet, but the Mystics will still contend

The Mystics will be competitive this year among a group of top-tier teams that have also shuffled some of their stars.

Washington Mystics Media Day
The Washington Mystics’ free agency efforts now focus on Natasha Cloud (R) and Emma Meesseman (L) but their team looks very strong regardless.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

We made it through one week of WNBA free agency signings. The Washington Mystics have made many moves in this time so let’s recap their journey below.

The Mystics re-signed some of their key players like Tina Charles and LaToya Sanders. They also signed Alysha Clark who was a key part of last season’s Seattle Storm’s championship team and acquired Erica McCall in a sign-and-trade deal with the Minnesota Lynx.

However, some of Washington’s unrestricted free agents have also signed elsewhere, largely due to cap space restrictions. Aerial Powers has agreed to sign with the Lynx though the team hasn’t announced it as of Tuesday, Feb. 9. Tianna Hawkins signed a two-year contract with the Atlanta Dream. Ultimately, who is left for Washington to sign, what are the next steps and how good could this Mystics team be?

Who are the Mystics’ remaining free agents and why haven’t they re-signed yet?

The two key players left to re-sign are Natasha Cloud and Emma Meesseman. According to Her Hoop Stats, the team has approximately $248,260 left to sign both of them and/or other players. Currently, the Mystics have 12 players, including three (Jacki Gemelos. Stella Johnson, Sug Sutton) who are on training camp contracts. They must have 11 but no more than 12 players on the opening day roster.

Cloud appears to be the easiest player to re-sign. She can only negotiate with Washington for her next WNBA contract because she skipped the 2020 season, which was also the last year of her previous deal. When reached out for comment, the Mystics organization noted that they are trying to work out an extension with her, but it may take some time before details are finalized.

Meesseman remains the team’s biggest question mark in free agency. She hasn’t indicated what her WNBA plans are yet. Though the Mystics want to keep a roster spot open for Meesseman, there is a good chance that she won’t be playing in the WNBA this season. If she skips this season, it will likely be because the Belgium women’s national basketball team will participate in Women’s EuroBasket in June and the Olympics in July.

The Mystics’ frontcourt will be fine if they don’t re-sign Meesseman.

Let’s assume that Cloud returns but that Meesseman doesn’t since this is a realistic scenario in the coming days or weeks. Though losing the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP will hurt, it also wouldn’t be a death blow to Washington’s championship hopes because the frontcourt rotation is already very deep.

They will have Elena Delle Donne, the 2019 WNBA regular season MVP returning along with Sanders who was starting on the 2019 championship team. Myisha Hines-Allen will also be back after her breakout 2020 season along with the newly re-signed Charles who is a former WNBA MVP herself. Any of these four players could start games and make an impact. However, the bigger question isn’t about who starts games. It’s more about who plays more minutes.

Regardless, it will be exciting to see how Delle Donne, Sanders, Hines-Allen, Charles and McCall fit together. Given that the frontcourt is Washington’s strongest area, we could see bigger lineups where some players, like Delle Donne or Hines-Allen move to small forward.

Should Washington make a move for a first round draft pick this year because they don’t have one right now?

For most teams, the next step in team construction would be the WNBA Draft this spring. But the Mystics have already traded all of their picks in this year’s draft as well as their 2020 first round pick (who was Jazmine Jones) due to the Charles trade last year.

That said, the Mystics will probably not regret that decision. Charles, who ultimately re-signed with Washington, will provide more of an impact right now than Jones and the fifth pick of this year’s draft, which is now going to the Dallas Wings, or the other picks Washington traded.

Will the Mystics be title favorites in 2021?

I don’t think the Mystics will be the number one favorite, but they will have a good chance to win the championship nevertheless.

Unlike some past WNBA seasons where there seemed to be one runaway favorite team, there appears to be some parity among the group of teams that could win it all this year, including the Mystics. But the other title contenders have seen significant players leave for other teams.

The Seattle Storm appeared to be the “runaway favorite” this year if they were able to re-sign their top free agents like Clark, Sue Bird and Natasha Howard. However, Clark is now playing for the Mystics. Bird hasn’t re-signed yet. And Howard hasn’t either though she was cored.

Our own Gabe Ibrahim, who also writes on Her Hoops Stats, noted that Howard, a 2019 All-WNBA first team member could have an incentive to look for a more prominent role elsewhere. But Howard’s current role on the Storm may be partly why she is cored, where she can only negotiate with Seattle for her next contract.

If the Storm aren’t runaway favorites this season in part due to Clark’s departure, perhaps the Minnesota Lynx are poised to relive their dynastic days of the 2010s. Minnesota got Powers to leave the Mystics, but they also acquired Kayla McBride from the Las Vegas Aces and Natalie Achonwa from the Indiana Fever. That’s before considering the fact that Sylvia Fowles is still there along with Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, the 2019 and 2020 WNBA Rookies of the Year, respectively. But with many new faces and some players inevitably having to take smaller roles, the Lynx could have growing pains this season.

The Las Vegas Aces, the 2020 WNBA runner-up lost McBride to Minnesota. But they have 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, added Chelsea Gray from the Los Angeles Sparks and cored Liz Cambage who is expected to return, so they will remain a factor in the title conversation.

And elsewhere in the WNBA, Candace Parker has signed with the Chicago Sky after spending her entire career with the Sparks. To do so, they had to let Cheyenne Parker (no relation) to the Atlanta Dream. Parker will be Chicago’s best frontcourt players since Delle Donne was on their roster, and they will still have their excellent backcourt of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.

Though losing Parker ends an era for L.A., that gave the Sparks more flexibility to sign Nneka Ogwumike to a supermax contract. They were also able to sign Erica Wheeler from the Fever to a large $180,000 salary this year.

And don’t forget about the Phoenix Mercury by the way. They still have Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and former Mystics guard Bria Hartley who had a breakout 2020 season.

I can go on and on with the moves this past week. But here’s my point. Since the WNBA began its new CBA last year, there is more star player movement than ever before and this will improve team parity, at least among the league’s contenders for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see how this season goes.