Head Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault has set out his key aims for Free Agency.
While working with the Jr NBA during a trip to the NBA London game that featured the Washington Wizards, Thibault told Double Clutch that re-signing the Mystics’ restricted free agent Natasha Cloud and unrestricted free agent LaToya Sanders are the first things on his to-do list.
He said: “They’re key parts of our team and we’ll get it done in time. With Natasha we can match any offer but we’ve already had good discussions with her agent, same with Latoya.”
And it seems the feeling is mutual for Cloud, who is already talking about making a trip back to the playoffs in 2019. Last season, the guard averaged a team high 4.6 assists, and while she scored in a supportive role, she averaged a career high 8.6 points, including a huge buzzer beater to see off the Los Angeles Sparks.
Cloud told Double Clutch: “We’re going to pick up right where we left off. We didn’t want to get swept in the Finals. Seattle is a great team that we want to mould ourselves after. But what I tell people, is that this is just our second year of having our group together. We traded for Elena [Delle Donne] and Kristi [Toliver] and that was a whole new team, we needed to learn chemistry and get to know each other. In our second year we’re a Finals team already.”
That doesn’t sound like a player that has any plans on leaving, and in answer to the questions of Free Agency, Cloud remained non-committal, but positive to still working with Washington. She said: “Yesterday we started the first official offers. My agent handles that for me so in the meantime I’m doing marketing and promotions for the Mystics and spending time out in London.
“Whatever is to be, we’ll see. We’re in God’s hands and I trust my agent, so we’ll see.”
If the Mystics want to return to the Finals and stand a chance to win, a few things will need to improve – the first being Delle Donne’s health. The former MVP battled through knee injuries during the final stretches of the playoffs, and enjoyed a gold-medal run with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup last year, but she isn’t quite 100%.
Delle Donne said to Double Clutch: “The knee has not fully recovered, so I’m trying to get healthy. It’s always tough when you come that close and fall short of a championship. You’ve got to give credit to Seattle, they were phenomenal this year, they have so many weapons. But we know how close we came, and we know what we have to do to improve.
“[Mike Thibault] is a great GM. He knows the pieces we need, and we stay in touch about our next steps. Free Agency is always a bit tough because some people are restricted, some are cored, but we’ll make the right moves to improve.”
In terms of additional moves, Thibault is focusing on adding one piece to the core that could have helped the Mystics put up a strong fight in the Finals. He said: “Getting Emma Meesseman back is as good an off-season that any team can have.”
The forward didn’t play in the WNBA last year, instead wanting to focus on making a push in the FIBA World Cup with her home nation Belgium. It worked, and Belgium fought its way to the Semi Finals, only to be knocked out by Delle Donne, Cloud and Team USA, despite Meesseman finishing that game with 23 points and 6 rebounds.
Thibault said: “[Emma’s] confidence level is at an all time high right now. She loves playing with her national team and we’re going to lose her for a few weeks this year because of the European Championship, but I feel like she was one of the two or three best players in the tournament last year. She is fully matured. When we first got her she was 19 years old but now she is 25 and a leader, and we got her. She’s understanding more of the game, she’s stronger, it’ll be great to have her come back to the team.”
And while Meesseman could have made the difference between being swept in the Finals and winning a ring last season, Thibault teased the prospect of signing another important free agent. “The biggest thing for us is to always have enough perimeter shooting on the floor. Natasha’s development over the past year helps that.”
Winking, Thibault continued: “In Free Agency, that’s the one area, so if there’s a clue of who we’re trying to talk to, that would be the one area about what we’re trying to do. Then we’ll see what the college draft holds. But I think more than anything, we have some young players that are developing: we brought in Ariel Powers last year in a trade, obviously Ariel Atkins has been a huge player for us, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has made a big step at the end of this year and her overseas play this winter. So I’m looking forward to getting our group back together, it’s still too far away for me.”
Thibault and the Mystics are eager to get everyone re-signed and back in training camp because they all feel the team can make the final step. From the always forthcoming Mike Thibault: “I’d like to be the Finals and take the last step and try to win it. Obviously the league is really good, there’s no guarantees you get back to the same point, but our players feel like we have a good open window right now of several years: we have a good young team but we’re experienced enough now to know what it’s like to do that, and the goal is to get back to it again.”
To the focused Elena Delle Donne: “Winning a championship. Getting all the right pieces to win the championship.”
The Mystics, free agents and all, sound pretty bought in to making another run at a WNBA championship in 2019. And while nothing is confirmed, Cloud reassured Washington fans of her plans during the season: “Our goal is a ring, and that doesn’t change.”
Featured photo – via Ned Dishman/ NBAE / Getty Images / Jessica Hill / Associated Press / Double Clutch illustration