September 21, 2023 

Locked On Women’s Basketball: 2024 WNBA free agency — Will Washington Mystics build around Elena Delle Donne?

Howard and Jenn discuss the road ahead for the Washington Mystics

The Washington Mystics have officially been eliminated from the 2023 WNBA playoffs after an overtime loss to the New York Liberty on Tuesday. On the latest episode of Locked On Women’s Basketball, host Howard Megdal and Mystics beat reporter Jenn Hatfield chart potential roads forward for the Mystics, as they face a potential franchise-altering offseason.

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Howard and Jenn first discuss the status of Mystics cornerstone Elena Delle Donne. Despite her injuries, Jenn argued that, when healthy, Delle Donne is “as good as she’s ever been.”

“I’ve quantified this over the past two seasons, she is still elite in every way,” Jenn said, referring to two stories detailing Delle Donne’s comeback from 2022 and 2023. Not to mention: “[Delle Donne] is perhaps the world’s best decoy when she’s not shooting.”

But, both Howard and Jenn recognized how precarious Delle Donne’s comeback has been, and how the Mystics might change their strategy going forward.

“The concept that there’s something with a higher ceiling than prime level Elena Delle Donne and company, when you get to the playoffs, isn’t something that was obvious to me,” Howard said. “She just had a year on par with the performances she’s had in the past. Something like a two year window with Elena seems to make a lot of sense, but it gets back to that question — is that what she wants? Or is she going to only expect a longer term deal?”

“But what we didn’t hear from Mike Thibault was ‘Elena is our centerpiece. We are building around Elena, if at all possible,'” Howard added.

Jenn spoke about how the Mystics don’t necessarily need to change their entire starting five to see playoff success, either: “I think if the Mystics didn’t have their injuries, if they had Shakira Austin in games one and two [of the playoffs], I think this could have gone really differently,” she said. “But they needed that whole season to gel, right? They beat New York in the season opener when New York was starting to put all their puzzle pieces together … and then the injury dominoes started to fall for Washington and they were the ones that ended the season trying to catch up, and that’s not really a great recipe for for playoff success.”

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Howard and Jenn also spoke about Natasha Cloud‘s upcoming free agency following her season-ending career-high 33-point performance; the highly-anticipated return of Shakira Austin and how she affects the Mystics’ defense; and much more!

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Written by The Next


  1. RM Williams on September 22, 2023 at 6:33 am

    Elena Delle Donne, as great a player as she can be when healthy, is equally a considerable risk for the same reason. While every player is subject to injury and health issues, one must look objectively at Elena’s history and then ask whether or not the future is there. So the question is how much are the Mystics willing to invest in Delle Donne?
    As far as Natasha Cloud is concerned, there are several teams in great need of a starting point guard. The Storm and the Lynx top that list. A player like Cloud could be very attractive to both those teams. Each one needs the stability and experience of someone like Natasha. Will Lindsay Allen return to the Lynx? If so, would she be willing to take a back seat to Natasha Cloud? Jordin Canada, who had an excellent year with the Sparks, is also a free agent, so if Cloud were to leave, could she fill that spot for the Mystics, the Storm, or the Lynx? And what will Skylar Diggins-Smith do? While there are some exciting names in the upcoming draft, not knowing who will return for another year might cause those teams in need to look at free agency more closely to fill that spot. Not everyone can have Clark, Bueckers, or Amoore, or Mühl.
    So Washington has some difficult decisions to make, as does every team. But Delle Donne’s situation is perhaps the most difficult, given her history, her age (which I think people in general make way too big a deal of for a lot of players) and whatever Elena wants to do. It is going to be an exciting and intriguing off-season.

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