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The Mystics look to reset their team into a defensive force with a pain-free Elena Delle Donne

If most things work out according to plan, the Mystics could be a dark horse championship contender, especially with a healthy Delle Donne. But after two consecutive mediocre seasons, it is understandable that many fans are wary.

Seattle Storm v Washington Mystics
Elena Delle Donne said she has been pain free for the last several months.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

When Washington Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault talked about his plan for the team in 2022, his goal was clear. After a lottery-bound 2021 WNBA season, he wanted to use this offseason to reset, as opposed to rebuild the roster.

Some of the key players on the 2021 team will return. Myisha Hines-Allen is back for her sophomore contract that takes effect this season. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has re-signed as well. New faces are also arriving. Elizabeth Williams signed with the team. And Tianna Hawkins is returning to D.C. after a one-year stint with the Atlanta Dream.

Of course, some other players will not return. Tina Charles is not coming back. And Emma Meesseman is going to the Chicago Sky. In fact, her departure was the first topic that Thibault addressed in the call.

But at the end of the day, the Mystics need a healthy Elena Delle Donne in order to contend for more than a first round playoff exit. Thankfully, Delle Donne is doing well. Very well.

Early in the call, Delle Donne said that she felt “phenomenal” and that her back was “pain free” for several months. This is a significant change from the end of last season when she only played three games as she recovered from a back injury in 2019 that forced her to do two surgeries.

The doctors at Monumental Basketball, including their Chief Medical Officer Daniel Medina deserve a lot of credit for helping Delle Donne get back on track with her road to recovery. Thibault made a point to mention Monumental’s medical team for that process.

Delle Donne will participate in the USA Basketball women’s national team’s training camp next week where she will be in individual drills. She will not participate with the team for the FIBA Women’s World Cup Qualifiers for their games against Belgium and Puerto Rico.

When Delle Donne and the newly-re-signed Hines-Allen are on the court this season, they will be under some pressure to perform at a higher level defensively. With All-WNBA defender Alysha Clark expected to return along with three more All-WNBA defenders in Williams, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud, it was Thibault’s intent to see the Mystics begin their foundation with a strong defense.

Hines-Allen and Williams also participated in today’s call. Hines-Allen in particular spoke about D.C. feeling like home for her, which was why she wanted to return.

Thibault was also asked whether it was possible to re-sign Hines-Allen and Meesseman. In his response, Thibault indicated that he would have liked to, but the salary cap limit made it difficult. In addition, Meesseman filtered herself out when she indicated to Thibault that she was considering playing for Chicago sometime last week. This is also around the time when Sky assistant coach Ann Wauters made it known that she was reaching out to Meesseman. Hines-Allen also appeared to be willing to take a lower salary if Meesseman wanted to return, but the point was moot when Meesseman decided to go to Chicago.

Even if Meesseman did not plan on going to Chicago, it didn’t seem that the Mystics were that keen on signing her anyway. Thibault ruled out using the “core” designation on her and believed the Mystics needed a more “reliable future,” possibly an acknowledgment that Meesseman’s absences weren’t helping Washington. Signing Hines-Allen to a longer deal as opposed to Meesseman made more sense anyway, which Diamond Holton noted in a piece last December.

Finally, while the Mystics have made most of their big moves, they still have one more to make, which is what to do with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft. Thibault said the plan was to keep that pick, unless “something wacky happens.”

Overall, Mystics fans should feel reassured about how the team will be this season, in very large part because Delle Donne is pain-free.