The Mystics will be concluding their 2011 season next Saturday on September 10, after finishing up a two game road trip against the San Antonio Silver Stars, who may have to play at full strength if they have to fight for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Either way, none of the last five games (as of the date of this post) will be of any value to the Mystics, except for pride and maybe to ensure a better record than the Tulsa Shock. Therefore, the season is effectively over for the Mystics. Even if we win out, we still won’t even be 5th place in the East.
So looking ahead, I have five suggestions, general ones about what the team should do this offseason:
1. The organization needs to give an honest dialogue and statement to the fans at the end of the season
This is something that I have debated about by myself really whether a team should say "We apologize" or "we're sorry." Normally, when a team performs badly and that same team begins its renewal campaign, generally speaking, the team tries to put out forward looking language, highlighting the youth, and expressing that the fans are seeing the foundation of a winning team. That is exactly how the Washington Wizards’ season ticket renewal campaign began this past March or so.
We had a young team, highlighted with the number one pick in the 2010 draft, and a cast of other young players, so duh, they're going to lose a lot early on. Even the
Thunder, I mean Sonics, okay Thunder was like that. Lastly, the organization made no attempt to hide the fact that we were gonna lose a lot of games, and as fans, we generally were understanding of that because it was frank, and we knew what was going on. After the end of the Wizards season, Ted Leonsis attributed much of the team's subpar performances to the lack of continuity and clear strategy with the front office, among other things.
As for the Mystics, they broke this rule to the T, after a successful two year run with GM Angela Taylor and Head Coach Julie Plank. I'm not going to continue belaboring and whining about them being gone on this post, but by letting them go and seeing last year's team get dismantled, well, I think it shows that there is no clear strategy once again with the Mystics unless we're told otherwise. In short, the Mystics won't comment about it, and are acting like it never happened. This lack of transparency is what makes fans unhappy.
Considering the circumstances of last offseason, and the organization's lack of talking about it besides acknowledging that changes were made, they need to make a public statement regarding fan reaction, as well as league perception about the team, which is pretty low, and they should take this as an insult considering that the same ownership group gets high marks for owning the local NBA and NHL teams, as they run them in a deliberate and meticulous manner.
I won't demand an apology from Ted or Sheila for the offseason itself though some other disgruntled fans may suggest otherwise. After all, the Cleveland Cavaliers made no apologies for their bad season in their 2010-11 campaign, though the offseason moves in the summer of 2010 were basically because of one player and his selfish move. What I will demand them to do is to be honest with the fans, and be transparent, just like they are with the other two teams they own and fan morale is pretty high for both of them.
Yes, I am a fan of the Wizards and the Capitals and I'm happy with where they are at, but don't let the Mystics be treated like a 2nd class citizen to the fullest extent possible! Jeez.
2. Do NOT fire Trudi Lacey! In fact, keep her and continue to give her full support going forward.
The Mystics have had more head coaches than any other WNBA team in its first 14 seasons with 12. Trudi Lacey has been maligned a lot this year by Mystics fans in particular, mostly because she has been a "defensive coach" for a team that doesn’t play good defense, and also because she hasn’t particularly good with end of game coaching situations, and we’ve lost several games in the last few seconds. Since she replaced Julie Plank (a/k/a the Mystic Messiah), you know that Trudi was going to be compared to her every step of the way and yes, because she didn't win as much as Julie, many fans think this is what needs to be done:
(My personal "work of art")
I know that a 5-24 record as of the time of this posting is certainly a legitimate reason to consider axing a coach. I know that Lacey's record in Charlotte got progressively worse from 2003 to 2005 as the team went from playoff team to just plain awful, and this is also used as an argument to fire her because she is judged based on her last performance with another team. Even though I know life isn't fair, and it certainly hasn't been for Mystics fans, firing her right now isn't fair either, and during this time, we need to be as fair on things that we can control. This is one of them.
A good example of a coach who got axed but did better in his second go around (for the WNBA) is Brian Agler. He was the Minnesota Lynx's first head coach from 1999-2002 when he was given the can (and while at Minny, his records got progressively worse year after year). After he got the pink slip, Agler served several years as an assistant and eventually, he got the job to be the Storm head coach in 2008 and now he has a championship under his belt. Sure, he got much better talent with the Storm than the Lynx, but still, as you can see, he was still put into a better situation at least talent-wise. Obviously in 2008, the Storm had to go through a storm of sorts, as it was hostage to the Oklahoma City situation, so there was some volatility to its future. Things weren't all bright and rosy in Seattle then, even though they had two of the top five players in the league.
Back to the Mystics situation, I don’t think Lacey should be fired after this season, no matter what. Quite frankly, Lacey came into this team during a very unstable time, and the player personnel changes that occurred after that, most likely in part because of the GM and coaching moves, aren’t Trudi's fault either. If you want to point the finger at anyone, you point it first at Sheila Johnson for thinking that these moves were necessary to keep the team alive when she also had the money to spend on another major purchase, and then you point the finger at Ted Leonsis for giving her the go-ahead, or keeping a blind eye to this as Wizards and Caps seasons were underway. I think everyone who likes the WNBA knows the Mystics were boneheaded to make these moves and for Mystics fans to call for Trudi's head is irrational, because no one outside of a terribly delusional Mystics fan knew this team wasn't going to be a .500 ball club, much less winning the #1 seed in the East.
Besides, what would firing Lacey do even this offseason? The Mystics would be searching for yet another head coach and GM (their 13th in 15 SEASONS), players will most likely have to learn another system, and barring a stroke of good luck, this won't help the Mystics in the long run. If broadcast analysts of other WNBA teams think the Mystics are a joke, it isn't far fetched to think that most WNBA players and coaches not on the Mystics think so too, since they aren't allowed to say that on the record. So in short, it will be very difficult to find good candidates to replace Lacey, even with the big and rich ownership group we have that I have liked for the most part except for the way they handle the Mystics.
Trudi Lacey deserves a chance to succeed or to fail here in Washington and one season doesn't cut it for me. Therefore, she also deserves a sufficient amount of time to show that she truly is a good WNBA head coach and player developer, at least here in Washington. If there is a change we need to make, perhaps we need a separate GM. Sure, some coaches can handle the role of GM effectively and run good teams, but others can't. It's not worth breaking a model that works on the court, and on the court success should lead to more fans in the seats in the long tun.
If we find out that Lacey is horrible after being given a good opportunity to improve on it, then yes, fire her, but don't fire her after one season, when there were changes made that were outside her control. Give the lady a break!
3. Keep Crystal Langhorne, no matter what.
Kinda obvious. I believe she is a restricted free agent so we can match any offer another team makes for her, but still she is the player on this team to rebuild around. Either way, with any team that is in rebuilding mode, someone has to be identified as THE franchise player or THE building block. Lang is that player. I love her savvy post moves and knack for offensive boards. I don't care if folks say our system makes her look better. She's just a damn good player.
Even if Langhorne wants to leave our team, fortunately we have the upper hand here since she is up for her second contract. Also, Lang played at Maryland which is maybe 10 miles away from Verizon Center, so here, she knows she has some fans who have been supporting her since she just left high school.
4. Make a trade to move up in the 2012 draft and keep the Seattle and Atlanta 1st draft picks
Because of the Anosike trade to Minny before the 2011 season, we now have the Seattle Storm's 2012 first round draft pick from the Katie for Jazzie trade. That pick will not be a lottery pick, and that team is just too good not to be in the playoffs. We also have Atlanta's 2012 first round pick in the Lindsey Harding trade. Though there is a chance that the Dream may miss the playoffs, I find it doubtful. Assuming both picks are outside the lottery, though there isn't much of a chance that we will get a generational star, we still could be able to draft and develop two young players who may be part of a new and improved Mystics core down the line.
I don't think Minny will give our first round pick back to us, unless we trade Langhorne to them, which I wouldn't do, not to mention that the draft next year is not anticipated to be strong, though you never know. Still, I'll cut the crap and say that the Mystics still need to consider making a trade package to move up in next year's draft with players not named Crystal Langhorne, and do not trade the first round pick we have from Seattle and in particular Atlanta in the event it's a lotto pick either. In any rebuilding effort (the Mystics are really meddling right now unfortunately), draft picks are valuable, and in the WNBA, first round draft picks are golden. The other two rounds are just training camp bodies that in all likelihood won't make the roster anyway.
Players who could be good trade chips for a 1st round pick in 2012 or maybe even 2013 and/or a young prospect who could be in our rotation long term could be a combination of Monique Currie (if her prognosis looks good), Matee Ajavon, and Marissa Coleman. For Monique, her play in these last few games may make a good impact on whether she stays here to add to a foundation around Langhorne or not, which in that case, we would trade her for younger talent and 1st round draft picks, the earlier, the better.
Don't get me wrong. I loved Mo's play last year and I am stoked that her recovery was quicker than anticipated. I'm also glad that Matee is tapping into her potential, and that Marissa has made strides on the boards and has diversified her game a bit as opposed to the last two seasons. But when a team is rebuilding, I just don't know if they are bonafide rotation players for the Washington Mystics when we start winning consistently once again. I have argued the same thing in regards to the Wizards by saying time and time again that our number one pick in 2010 is THE building block, and everyone else is expendable, though some of course are harder to move than others.
In short, Langhorne is THE building block in my eyes, end of story.
5. Let go of Alana Beard.
Not easy for me to say it because Alana has been our franchise player since 2004 when we drafted her. However, she sat out not only this year, but also last year due to injury, and with an 11 man roster, not having her play cost us an opportunity to get another player who could contribute for two straight years. If she doesn't retire, Beard will probably not play like she did from 2004-2009 and if you're Alana and still able to play, you would likely want to play for a team with a chance to win it all and this team just isn't gonna do it for awhile. I kinda felt that the team should have considered moving Alana after the 2008 season as well and was proven wrong for a little bit, but I don't see lighting striking twice. I believe Beard is a free agent this year, so she should go anywhere she wants, assuming she still wants to play next year (and I think she does). If Alana's the WNBA MVP next year on another team and we got nothing for her, I'm happy for her, but really from a business perspective, is it worth it? I don't know how any player who can sit out two whole years and then come back and be rejuvenated besides maybe Grant Hill.
These are the things on my wish list for next year. Anything I'm missing out on? Or would you add anything that I didn't consider?