Editor's Note - Some really good thoughts here, and some minor edits to fill in names and adjusted a line on ownership. Check this out.
As a more casual Mystics fan who hadn’t followed the team closely for years and years until this year, I thought I’d go ahead and answer Albert’s call. Gondor has called for aid and Rohan will answer. Errrrrrrrrrrr, something like that. :)
What if, on that ever so fateful day of June 1, 2007, Richie Adubato woke up in the morning, looked in the mirror, and said to himself "Well, this is certainly messed up. We’re 0-5 and now this. Crystal Robinson has retired, which isn’t that surprising, and we think she’ll make a good assistant coach. However, I’ve got no clue why GM Linda Hargrove didn’t at least call me before shipping Chasity Melvin out to Chicago for Monique Currie. I mean, as the dang coach, I ought to at least be consulted on stuff like this. However, the more that I think about it, the more I think that this is probably a good idea in the long run. I mean, I want to see what this Sanford kid’s got. In addition, the idea of hitching all of our small forward wagons to Tamara James - EEEEEEEEEEEEEEECK. I don’t even wanna go there! So, we’ll go ahead and stick it out and see what we can do with it."
In spite of the "Washington Post’s" Dan Steinberg having fun writing about the angry and bitter Chasity literally suiting up that night to stick it to her now former team, the "new-look" Mystics make quick work of the visiting 1-3 Sky. I mean, the Mystics weren’t exactly frightened of Sneaky [Stacey] Dales-Schuman and her still expansion-teamish minions. Dropping the next three games as the new starting unit begins to gel and James gets Mo up to speed, the team finally gets out of its funk for real, winning its next group of games against Western Conference foes Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Houston. The cataclysmic game for the first-half of the season is the June 29th home game against Detroit, the very game in which the franchise turns the corner and finally establishes itself as capable of winning in the long run (in fact, that’s not all fictional. In real life, this remains not only the best-ever performance by a Mystics team that I’ve seen, but the best basketball game I’ve ever seen. Period.)
The second half of the season features some interesting developments, including:
1. Seeing Alana Beard, Mo, and DeLisha Milton-Jones hitting crazy-hard shot after crazy-hard shot, a fire begins to burn under Nikki Blue, and she abandons her campaign to get hip-hop clothing labels to provide free goodies to WNBA players. Instead, she uses her newfound free time to - you guessed it - practice shooting. Spending every waking hour that she can in the gym taking just about every type of shot you can imagine, she finds herself replacing the hobbled Nikki Teasley in the starting lineup. With her solid speed and quickness, Blue’s court vision begins to improve, enabling the team to win some additional close games and enabling her to lock up the starting spot for at least the next three seasons. In fact, when the season ends, she doesn’t ship out for Greece, opting to stay home and continue work on her shooting.
2. Not bogged down with head coaching duties, assistant coach Tree Rollins finds himself with plenty of time to work with the undersized and to this point, underutilized Bernice Mosby. Having noticed Mosby’s exceptional lateral quickness inside the paint, Tree slowly enables her to become a solid interior defender. Although Hargrove’s assessment of B-Mo’s offensive game was a bit off (Sorry, Linda, but she’s no D-Nasty,) and she isn’t going to poach many of D-Nasty’s minutes (after all, the Mystics are a team that usually needs to come from behind, not protect a lead), Mosby goes on the become a key defensive specialist who boxes out, rebounds well, and helps the team.
On the road late in the season, the team really proves its mettle, with solid inside scoring from longshot-project-turned-blue-chip-prospect Gillian Goring and a barrage of three-pointers from Coco Miller and Laurie Koehn leading the way. The team finds itself winning all four games of its murderously-hard west-coast swing against San Antonio, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Sacramento and then finishing the season a solid 18-16, snagging the fourth and final playoff spot.
As things are finally going right in Mysticsland, Alana (admittedly one of the best perimeter defenders in the league at the time) finally solves the Deanna Nolan riddle in the first round of the playoffs, shutting Nolan down and enabling the Mystics to pull perhaps the most stunning upset in WNBA playoff history. However, it all goes for naught when the team runs headlong into Loree Moore, Cathrine Kraayeveld and company, who sweep the Mystics and advance to the Finals. In the end, Richie vows to build an even better, more balanced Mystics team in 2008, Alana vows to get past her nagging shoulder injury and continue her quiet leadership in 2008, and most importantly, DeLisha vows that even though she’s disappointed that the franchise didn’t market the heck out of her, she’s looking forward to remaining a Mystic for a great many years.
One of the best things about this particular fantasy is what we don’t get. We don’t get the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Night on that June 1st, allegedly leaving resident tough-gal Coco Miller in tears on the sideline and (at the time) apparently dooming the rest of the season. We don’t get poor Tree eventually getting overwhelmed and in the long run, in over his head as head coach. We don’t get an angry DeLisha holding the franchise hostage in the following offseason, first demanding a trade and then vetoing a prospective trade to Minnesota because she suddenly decides that she only wants to play for New York, Detroit, or Los Angeles. After Goring and Mosby tear up their knees playing abroad, we don’t get the Mystics suddenly having to use their 2008 first round pick on Crystal Langhone because they don’t know who their front-court is going to be, eliminating their ability to address other needs elsewhere (although, in a way, this did turn out for the best. Lang’s ended up being Hargrove’s best decision). We do get Taj for a bit, which is good, but we don’t get a hobbled, overwhelmed Nikki Blue joined by an equally-hobbled, equally-overwhelmed Crystal Smith trying to hold down the fort at point guard in a point guard-driven league – contributing heavily to the 10-24 debacle of a 2008 season. We don’t get our inept team president, Dr. Sheila Johnson, ripping the players, telling the media that they lack talent and thus alienating them, their families, and prospective free agents like, say, Ticha Penicheiro, who’d probably rather drink her own bath water than sign a free agent contract to play for Johnson.
In short, we don’t get a chain reaction of adverse events that caused explosive decompression that struck at the very heart of our beloved franchise’s foundation, causing fissures that ran so deep that Mike Thibault is only now beginning to repair them.
I guess this post was inspired by seeing Nadirah McKenith and Tayler Hill doing the funky pass drill during pre-game warm-ups. That brought back the Blue and James pre-game funky pass drill memories. Like every Mystics fan, I’m forever thinking of what might’ve been. :)