Mystics open training camp with new faces but same title aspirations

The design and development of Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen, the takeover of Aerial Powers, and the blockbuster trading for former MVP Tina Charles should make the organization a favorite in 2020 and ideally beyond.

But everyone knows what happens to the best plans, and the mystics will start the 2021 training camp on Sunday with an unexpected look but the same goal. The season begins at home on May 15 against the Chicago Sky and the newly acquired Candace Parker.

“Last year we all made our plans for Tina and Elena and what that would look like together … and that blew up,” said Thibault, general manager and coach of Mystics. “Now we’ve got another off-season signing a huge free agent and it’ll blow up in less than six weeks. So we are constantly trying to readjust ourselves. “

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The coronavirus pandemic rocked the mystics’ title defense, as did a summer protesting racist injustices. Delle Donne, Charles, Sanders and Cloud have canceled the season. In addition, Toliver signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Sparks. The Mystics struggled through much of the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic before gathering to sneak into the playoffs, where they were beaten to a summer beater in their first game. Then the roster transition began again. Powers signed with the Minnesota Lynx. Hawkins went into the Atlanta Dream. Sanders withdrew. Meesseman, the MVP for the 2019 final, is out at least during the Olympic break due to commitments overseas.

Powers’ departure should be offset by the signing of one of the league’s top defenders, Alysha Clark. However, the two-time champions lost for the season after sustaining a foot injury that required surgery in France.

The mystics have to find another way to poke a hole in the starting grid and figure out what this collection of players will look like together. There have been plans to drive opposing backyards insane with the defensive versatility of Clark, Cloud, and Atkins, but these need tweaking. Thibault has many options, including starting Hines-Allen after a career year when she was named second-team All-WNBA.

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“You just have to roll with the punches, man. Things happen, ”said Atkins. “Last year I learned patience to get out of a championship season and then go into something like the bubble where not only am I the only returning starter, but I also had to grow up very quickly. So many things have just changed and I think it really taught the younger players that were there that we could learn how to adapt on the fly. And so I’m just learning to be patient, man. “

Thibault preaches patience before the training camp even starts. Delle Donne has had back surgery and has not played on a team since the end of the 2019 season. She starts the season with a minute limit and is slowly being brought in. Charles hasn’t played since 2019 either. Cloud has only played overseas for a few months since then and has come back early both times.

Stella Johnson had an off-season ankle surgery and the new additions – Erica McCall, Theresa Plaisance and Shavonte Zellous – need to be integrated. There are 160 pages of league-set coronavirus precautions that must also be followed.

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“I feel like I want to wrap them all in bubble wrap until the first game,” said Thibault. “So we will drive very slowly during the training camp. It’s going to be a very gradual process. I don’t expect very long in practice. Part of our practice learning will be done through video and walkthroughs. And every day we will try to add a little more up and down and contact things, but to do it gradually.

“We don’t have to come in for a few days and do a hundred things at the same time, then everyone has to be sore and confused and not feeling great. That makes no sense. “

Much of the off-season focus has been on defending champions Seattle Storm, Phoenix Mercury, Las Vegas Aces and Minnesota Lynx, but the Mystics have the second best chance of winning the title, according to DraftKings. Aside from Clark’s signing and the resulting disappointment when she was injured, this was not an active off-season for Washington. The Mystics haven’t had a single draft pick, and their two former MVPs – Delle Donne and Charles – act a little more behind the scenes than other stars. Cloud was the most visible, but much of it was focused on her fight against systemic racism.

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The Mystics may not open camp as the most talked-about team in the WNBA, but they continue to have a deep roster that, when healthy, makes them a title contender.

“This outside noise is never important to us,” said Cloud. “We focus on ourselves, we focus on the mystics, we focus on getting better with each other every day. While we’re sliding under the radar that’s cool too. We were a team that had the target on our backs … the ones that everyone wants to beat. Then, to kind of go into that outsider position now, I love it.

“I’m built for it. I’ve been an underdog my whole life and I can promise you that everyone on this team is ready to prove who we are. “