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February mailbag answers Part 3 of 3: The Mystics’ title hopes and remaining free agency targets

In our third part of our mailbag, we answer your questions on the Washington Mystics.

2019 WNBA Finals - Game One
Is Natasha Cloud being too selfish in her free agency?
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

This is the third part of our February mailbag, where we will answer your questions on the Washington Mystics.

If you haven’t read the other parts of the mailbag, click on the links below. Our next mailbag will be in mid-March.

Tina Charles signed a one year deal. What does that mean for Washington after her contract ends? (Nathan Snell, email)

Diamond Holton: I believe this deal is a we have faith that if everyone is healthy they’re contenders for a championship. But once the contract ends, it’ll be time for the Mystics to reevaluate who’s most important and is a need more so than a want. Keep in mind Charles is 32 and has a few years left in her before retirement sneaks its way in.

Washington also has to realize when her contract ends, the focus could leave and be more on Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins whose rookie contracts end next year. They’re definitely assets Washington would need to bring back.

Albert: I don’t think Charles is back after 2021. They would have to sign Hines-Allen to a longer term deal and she would make a salary well above $100,000. They will be rebuilding-on-the-fly, like the Minnesota Lynx did in the last couple seasons.

Where would we put the Mystics (ranking wise) as a contender?

Albert: I would put them in a group of first-tier contenders along with the Lynx and Las Vegas Aces. On paper, I think the Lynx are the most dangerous. However, they just acquired many new players and it takes time for teams to gel.

Case in point? The 2017 Mystics, who were pegged to be championship favorites by many once Elena Delle Donne arrived. I was never that warm to that idea and the Mystics were just 18-16 that season. That said, the core of the Mystics remained for two more seasons and they won in 2019 in part because of the continuity.

So I don’t think the Mystics, Lynx and/or Aces will stand out much from each other once the games are played.

Diamond: With the additions, subtractions on all the teams to this point and everyone being fully healthy the Mystics are definitely among the Top-2 contenders and they’re not number two.

Having Head Coach Mike Thibault gives Washington the needed advantage over any team given all the moves. I mean last season in the bubble the Mystics only came in with one returning starter and managed to still make the playoffs after a rocky start. Thibault led a team that was counted out immediately and forced other players to shine. A healthy Mystics team is a championship team.

Emma Meesseman wasn’t “Playoff Emma” in the Wubble, what should we expect this year from her?

Diamond: If she plays this season, I expect “Playoff Emma” to resurface.

It’s one thing to have all the pressure on you when the scoring leader is absent and it’s another thing when the focus is all on the scoring leader and not you. I think Emma will come back fierce as ever.

But I honestly don’t feel she’ll play this season because of international obligations, which Albert will have more to say on.

Albert: Agreed. I don’t expect her to return to the WNBA this season, and perhaps longer. I’ll focus my answer on the international aspect of things since Diamond hit the gist of what I expect from Meesseman if she does play for Washington this season.

As we all know now, the Belgian national team is now a women’s basketball world power in a very short period of time. Now is their time to perhaps win a EuroBasket Gold Medal, and perhaps an Olympic one too.

Given her country’s rise, some of you may be wondering why Meesseman wasn’t missing games early in her WNBA career. That’s because Belgium routinely missed EuroBasket altogether in the early 2010s.

Since Belgium became a world power in a short period of time, it’s not just because Meesseman is dominating for them. There are many strong European League players on the team like Indiana Fever PG Julie Allemand who is a bit younger than Meesseman. And former Mystics guard Kim Mestdagh is still in her prime and on the roster. The Belgians also have much younger talent who hit it big in the youth levels, like Billie Massey who was the U18 European Championship MVP in 2017 (where they won) and is getting called up to the senior team herself.

Meesseman knows that the Belgian Cats are in their collective prime. She has indicated that she wants to take full advantage of it multiple times. That collective prime has helped them win the bronze medal in Women’s EuroBasket 2017 and an appearance in the World Cup semis a year later where it took Team USA guard Diana Taurasi to fire on all cylinders to put them away in that round. It won’t be easy, but Belgium will have a good chance to win the Gold Medal in Women’s EuroBasket AND get an Olympic medal this summer. It wouldn’t shock me to see them win Gold to be honest.

How do you think this Mystics team looks without Aerial Powers and Tianna Hawkins?

Albert: I think the Mystics will be fine without them. Alysha Clark is essentially Powers’ replacement. She’s a low usage 3-and-D player, which Washington can use more of given that they have plenty of high usage players like Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and perhaps Myisha Hines-Allen given her play last season.

Erica McCall is Hawkins’ replacement but she probably won’t play too much per game because the Mystics’ post rotation is deep given EDD, Charles, Hines-Allen and LaToya Sanders are in the roster.

Diamond: They honestly look like the 2020 team before the absences.

Aerial Powers played a few games and then had some injuries that kept her out for the remaining of the season. Tianna Hawkins was a hurt a bit as well, but Washington managed just fine. Losing Powers and Hawkins wasn’t a huge loss in my opinion as much as it may look on paper.

Again, Coach Thibault has the power and capabilities to adjust and make opponents play his game. And from hindsight, it seems Powers didn’t truly want to stay in Washington since her decision took a lot longer than expected.

Wondering what your thoughts are on this: I think the Mystics should trade Natasha Cloud or allow her to sit out for the second straight year. Though the Mystics allowed her to grow, I think Mike Thibault should let her walk since this situation can be a distraction. She isn’t ready for a super max and her selfishness is not warranted. (Gregory Peyton, email)

Albert: I disagree with your assertion that Cloud is selfish, in the sense that you are implying that she doesn’t care about the Mystics. Free agency IS the time for players like Cloud to be selfish. They need to cash in on their worth while they can. That can clash with a team’s goals but they aren’t necessarily antagonistic to each other.

Age-wise, Cloud is 28 years old and in the prime of her career. This next contract she has may be the highest paying one she’ll ever get, so she should go for the highest possible salary she can get.

There are two things that can hurt Cloud’s ability to earn more. First, she can only negotiate her next contract with the Mystics, so she’s not exactly a free agent. Cloud forfeited her potential free agent status last year when she skipped the season though it was also the last year of her contract.

Second, Meesseman’s uncertain status for this summer could limit Cloud’s salary. Though Diamond and I don’t think she’s coming back, the team is likely holding some cap space (they have about $248,260 according to Her Hoop Stats) to sign both players and it’s unlikely that Meesseman would come back to get a pro rated level of the veterans’ minimum. She was paid the supermax last season.

A supermax for this season is $221,450 while the regular maximum is $190,550. I don’t expect to see Cloud getting the supermax given the combination of those factors, but it’s possible she may get a salary that approaches the regular maximum. Since Alysha Clark is making $183,000 and and Tina Charles is making $175,000, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Cloud get a salary in that range.

The tough part is that if Cloud gets a multi-year contract, they will still not have much cap room for 2022. Washington only has about $677,959 in cap space for next season, so that can go down to about $500,000 or so after an extension. That remaining money is also what they need in order to re-sign Hines-Allen and Atkins.