What Each WNBA Team Should Do In 2012, Pt. 4: The Tulsa Shock and Washington Mystics

Swish Appeal regular and resident Washington Mystics fan thewiz06 looks at Category 3 teams with two teams that will be continuing an extended rebuilding process. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 of his series of guest posts for a look at all the categories and where teams fit.

It seems like an eternity now between the time when I first wrote this out about a week ago and free agency which officially started as of yesterday. We have seen one trade already where the Los Angeles Sparks traded guard Noelle Quinn for Mystics forward Marissa Coleman, and the Tulsa Shock traded Andrea Riley for Temeka Johnson earlier this offseason. I look forward to seeing what else happens in free agency, and what team building strategy each team ultimately makes. Ultimately, very few teams decide to rebuild - as I might hope - because this often results in a period of lower win totals.

I hope by now that most readers also realized that this isn't a prediction of where each team will be in the standings this year, and which team is going to win the championship. It is simply a barometer of which direction a team should take in its ultimate goal of winning a WNBA title based on a combination of age and talent of the personnel in that order; and yes, Sue Bird's free agency is a factor for some teams, regardless of whether she has a new home in Seattle or not. That said, I do think the previous ten teams will make a run at the playoffs, but there are only four spots for five decent teams in each conference.

In the WNBA, there are also the clear have-nots that I didn't mention yet. Last year, two teams, the Shock and the Mystics, were the have nots for a number of reasons. This year, I expect them to remain at the bottom of the standings because of a combination of insufficient talent to seriously contend and an unstable or incompetent management situation - in their case, it's arguably both.

That doesn't mean that the Shock and Mystics will remain there every year for the next five years or more. That is an eternity in the world of pro sports. I will go back to Ted Leonsis's ten point rebuilding plan. With the Fever and Storm, I said that they don't have to do a fire sale in order to rebuild successfully, but they still will have to make tough choices. With these two teams however, they have already hit the bottom of their respective conferences. What these teams need to do is build a young core of players who develop chemistry and have clear upside. And with age, yes, this core should be made of players primarily under 30.

In summary, the Shock and Mystics must continue to stay the course with the "traditional rebuild" and follow Ted's plan to a T. No shortcuts. Also, they both have a very valuable asset in a 2013 first round pick. Since they probably won't make the playoffs, there is great chance this pick could be Griner, Delle Donne, or Diggins (The Big Three) who will further improve these teams in 2013, and this could help them have a serious chance at the playoffs then.

Given the fact that they are likely out of the playoff hunt before this season starts, it is in their best interest to at least try to develop some good chemistry around the younger players and hope a Big Three player can further impact their squads next year. In addition, it will be hard to attract good free agents to their teams, so developing young units is just as imperative to their long term success. Hopefully, they do succeed.

Tulsa Shock

The Shock has a foundation for a future contending team, starting with their top two picks from last year's draft in Liz Cambage and Kayla Pedersen. Although I am not sold on them being superstars in the immediate future, they have at least shown the potential to be part of the rotation on a contending Shock team in the future, and with hopefully one of the Big Three draft prospects in 2013, this will further solidify this young core. Tulsa's new head coach, Gary Kloppenburg has been a respected assistant in the WNBA with the Indiana Fever, so hopefully he can help improve this team considerably over the next two seasons, given the draft for next year.

I am concerned that this team isn't young enough, since about half of the roster is older than 25. Once a player is in her late 20's, she should be entering her prime, and that's about as nice as I can put it when a team with players in their late 20's can't win many games. The Shock needs to keep players above the age of 25 or 26 down to a max of three or four if it can, but such players need to be able to play effectively while on the court. I say this because though some older players should be on a rebuilding team for mentoring purposes, if there are too many of them, they just end up wasting roster spots for more young players to prove themselves in the WNBA. Look at Ted's step #5, and look at Swoopes and Lennox. Young players need to show what they can do, and this team is the type of team that can provide young players such an opportunity.

So that might make the Temeka Johnson acquisition look bad at first because she is 30, but given that the Shock needs a veteran mentor who can run the team, this actually isn't a bad move -- Pedersen doesn't appear to be a bona fide star and Cambage is out for the first half of this season because she wants to win a gold medal.

In short, I think the team needs to stay the course with its rebuild. Build with youth, the draft, and trade for younger free agents, but older players are welcome as mentors and there won't be many spots for them. The Shock needs to play the younger players considerable minutes and focus on their development. The Shock isn't making the 2012 WNBA playoffs in most scenarios. Hopefully, the Shock won't be totally shafted in the draft and lose out on drafting some member of the Big Three, like this year. That could be a huge blow, and it wouldn't be the Shock's fault.

Washington Mystics

Ahh. Finally, the team I am most familiar with. And we finally get to see how Ted's team follows his own rules!

First question that has to be asked is this. Who's calling the shots for the Mystics from Monumental Sports ownership? Ted Leonsis is the majority owner and therefore the Mystics owner, so one way or another he has final say on everything with the team and he should. However, Sheila Johnson is his right hand woman and is the Mystics president, and the de-facto owner in many ways. Last season, Sheila was notably quieter than she was in past seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was because of the backlash from the 2010-11 offseason. At this point, I don't care if Sheila or Ted is the one giving instructions into head coach/GM Trudi Lacey's ear or if it's COO Greg Bibb. What I will say is that the Mystics' strategy and communication must be transparent within ownership, the front office, and the fans and everyone must be on the same page and they aren't, unlike the Caps and Wizards generally speaking. (See step two of Ted's plan) If there's a disconnect between these groups, then this Mystics rebuild will fail and I might as well stop here.

Well, at least with the current team, on one front DC is further along in its rebuild than the Shock because there is a clear player to build around with Crystal Langhorne, who will be 26 in October. Yes, she is a restricted free agent, but they will almost definitely keep her no matter what. However, can the Mystics build around Langhorne successfully in light of the franchise's bad perception?

The Mystics can expect Mo Currie to return too, and after all she's a DC native, and she was given the franchise tag. However, she is 29, and though I want her to stay I don't want any more core players older than her if at all possible. So that would probably leave DeMya Walker out of their plans. The Mystics will have two first round draft picks for this year, but they probably are fringe rotation players at best, given that the Storm and the Dream made the playoffs in flying colors. Assuming head coach and GM Trudi Lacey doles out minutes like she did last year, we may see at least one of these picks get fired mid-season like we saw with Ta'Shia Phillips. If Lacey does this again, or continues to try to add more veteran players in an attempt to make the playoffs, then you'd have to wonder if the Mystics would be better off going in another direction - handling and developing young talent is a paramount step to Ted's ten-step rebuilding plan which is steps 4 and 5 in his plan.

Unfortunately, I'm not that happy with the trade the Mystics made yesterday, where Marissa Coleman was traded for Noelle Quinn of the Sparks. I understand that Marissa didn't pan out over three years as a starter for DC, but at the same time, I'd rather see her traded for a player her age or younger or for a higher draft pick for this year. The Mystics could certainly use a higher draft pick this season, and still be in the lotto for 2013. Some Mystics fans think this trade was solely because Marissa wanted out and she now gets to play alongside Kristi Toliver again, but to me, Marissa wasn't working out here, and Mo outplayed her with one and a half knees in four games, and Quinn adds more positional versatility so I can see why she's here. But still, I'd rather see Marissa traded for a younger player or a first round pick this year rather than for a player who is entering her prime and has less upside than Coleman.

I also hope they let Alana walk to any other team. She deserves a chance to play on a top tier team, and this team won't be there for at least the next couple years assuming everything works out for the best.

Like the Shock, the Mystics' biggest asset is their 2013 first round pick, which has a very good chance of being one of the Big Three. However, the Mystics have had really bad luck in the draft in 2002, 2004, and 2009 when sure-fire generational talents were selected before they could get a chance to get them (look up the drafts and you'll see). Given the bad luck of the past, it's tempting to say that they should just trade the pick to avoid further misfortune. But do I think that the Mystics will do this? I don't want them to, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised if they did, if this Coleman trade is a precursor for anything. That said, if the Mystics keep the 2013 first round pick, they should worry about the draft pick situation only after it plays itself out.

Attracting good free agents to DC isn't going to be easy at all, with the 2010-2011 offseason fresh in players' and fans' minds, so it's highly unlikely that they'd be top contenders for Sue Bird or most of the better free agents.

I don't want to see another eight months of bad basketball from the Wizards and the Mystics, but the Mystics especially need to follow this traditional rebuild because they don't have any other realistic option, barring an unforeseen circumstance that no one knows about and some luck (We miss you Angela and Julie!). I only hope that they can get some steals with their current draft picks in the first round, that these picks mesh well with the current roster, and that the Mystics can get a Big Three player for 2013.

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