Mystics owner Ted Leonsis (left) and Team President Sheila Johnson (right) hope Mike Thibault (center) can make the right moves this offseason before the 2013 season. The three Mystics fans in our roundtable also hope for the same. - Ned Dishman, NBAE/Getty Images
So, last but not least, some notes on the Washington Mystics' offseason. Admittedly, I've put out a lot of stuff regarding this team over the past several months. I have already lined out what I'd like to see this team do in those posts in our Mystics' StoryStream and I haven't changed my stance on where I would like to see this team go. So instead of rehashing my own thoughts, I have a done a Q&A with three fellow Mystics fans on how they feel about this offseason and what they would like to see for 2013.
Here are the three fans who agreed to be in this roundtable:
1. Susan Loftus - She is a 12 year season ticket holder for the Mystics, and is also a season ticket holder for the University of Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team.
2. Ebenezer "EB" Famutimi - He is not a season ticket holder because he lives in Southern California. However, he is a Washington, DC native and has avidly followed this team along with the other Washington pro sports teams (Redskins/Nationals/Capitals/Wizards/DC United, etc.) since its founding.
3. Ed Strand - He is a 16 year season ticket holder for the Mystics and is one of the team's "Founding Fans."
So here are the questions we asked and their responses:
Swish Appeal: What lessons do you think that Monumental Sports has learned from the 2011-2012 WNBA seasons and how do you think that ownership can build better relations with Mystics fans over the long term?"
Susan: The lifeblood of any pro sports team [is] the season ticket holder base. These enduring fans view themselves as actually being part of the team as they talk about "we won!" and "we will be better next year." Before the 2011 season, that was me. I had been an unofficial ambassador for the team since day one. I told everyone I came in contact with how great it was to be a Mystics fan. As a physical education teacher, I "grew" Mystics fans, plastering school hallways with posters, giving students my Mystics swag, getting kids and families to games. Throughout the many seasons with sub-par winning percentages, there was always hope. For me, Monumental Sports' mistakes during the 2011-2012 seasons squashed that hope. The Ownership did not show they were "consistently striving to win championships." The team's mission statement was a lie. Actions showed they had settled for mediocrity. Lesson? Keep hope alive!
EB: The lesson learnt: BEING CHEAP DOESN'T SELL TICKETS. Apparently, ownership's hiring of Trudi Lacey (and the release of then-General Manager Angela Taylor and then-Head Coach Julie Plank) after the 2010 season was a decision based on economics. To say this decision backfired is an understatement. As for the fans, ownership needs to be transparent. The fans are [Monumental Sports’] primary investment, so ensure they're well-informed of the affairs surrounding the organization.
Ed: The lesson that Monumental Sports learned was this: Don’t take Mystics fans for granted. After the last couple years they heard the fans' collective displeasure with the product on the floor and they responded with the hiring of Mike Thibault. I think that hiring him may be a blessing in disguise. He was fired from Connecticut despite building a winning young roster with upside, simply because they didn't win that elusive championship. Monumental Sports needed a shot in the arm with the Mystics and Thibault provides that for us, and he may very well be looking for a chance to settle a score with them.
SA: One of the most important questions in the current Mystics' offseason is whether Crystal Langhorne should remain with the team for 2013. Do you think that Langhorne needs to stay in order to provide veteran leadership and strong post play, or should she be dealt for other assets that may help this team more in the future?
Susan: Crystal is the future! Arguably, she has been the one consistent performer over the past few years. In addition, her game continues to develop. She is a young veteran leader that is needed both on the court and in the locker room.
EB: If there are [significant] available “assets” that present themselves via the draft or free agency, I believe Crystal Langhorne should be dealt. NO player should be deemed irreplaceable.
Ed: If Thibault thinks that Crystal Langhorne's leadership and presence is indispensable, then he should keep her. But he said to the fans loud and clear last December that we shouldn't be mad at him for trading any player away, which presumably includes Crystal. I think she could be bundled in a deal to bring another core player or assets that may give us more of a long term payoff than keeping her, even if she does improve a bit over the next couple seasons.
SA: Should the Mystics go with a youth movement for 2013 like what the Tulsa Shock did last year? Which types of veteran players (not necessarily specific players) should be there to complement a young core if that is what you’d like to see?
Susan: Whether the Mystics go with a youth movement or not, I’d like to see the GM put together a roster that actually fits together as a team. I trust that he is not just grabbing any puzzle pieces he can. He’s got a herculean job in front of him. How much trade bait does he have to work with? How attractive does signing with DC seem to quality free-agents? However 2013 roster turns out, the only way to go is up!
EB: Fortunately, the Mystics are currently a young team relative to the likes of the Seattle Storm. I believe we should continue in this path [of building with younger players]. If we truly need a veteran to complement the core, that player could be Langhorne (assuming she’s not dealt) or a player acquired via free agency, who doesn’t necessarily have to a starter.
Ed: You need to develop a good core since you can only keep 11 players given WNBA rules. Because we're rebuilding, we need a mixture of about 70% younger players with 30% veterans or so. The younger players need to provide most of the positive contributions for this team to show that it has upside, but the veterans on this team still need to provide good contributions both on the court and with their off the court leadership.
SA: GM and Head Coach Mike Thibault stated at a December 2012 season ticket holder event that guard play, specifically point guard play and perimeter shooting ability are two of the higher priority needs of the team. If you were in his shoes, how would you address them?
Susan: With recent signing of free agent [Ivory] Latta, I see the point guard position as being improved. Having said that, is Ivory "the one" or is she the best Mystics could sign at this time? With only one assistant coach named at this time, I wonder if talent interested in joining Mystics might improve with a new hire named Ticha [Penicheiro, the former WNBA point guard who last played for Chicago] on Coach Mike’s staff!
EB: Free agency, including Ivory Latta's signing and also see my answer to your question regarding what we should do with the draft.
Ed: I believe that Coach Thibault has started to address this with Latta's signing. But even with her, the question is can she really be a true starting point guard for this team over the long haul? Thibault still needs to address the area of guard play by acquiring an additional taller guard who can provide shooting and playmaking ability.
SA: Since 2002 when the Draft Lottery began, in seasons when the Mystics missed the playoffs, they have routinely missed out on realistic chances to draft players like Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Angel McCoughtry because the lottery balls did not fall their way. Unfortunately, the Mystics are potentially in the same spot for this season. Another Washington team, the Washington Redskins NFL team took a calculated risk to move up in the 2012 NFL Draft to pick up Robert Griffin, III who is poised to become a franchise quarterback for them, even considering his recent knee injury. Do you think the Mystics should make a similar move like the Redskins did to acquire one of the "Big Three" picks or should they stay at the 4th pick and continue to develop whatever players they have, considering that Coach Thibault has been a strong player development coach over his career?
Susan: In my eyes, this year’s draft is really only a "top two." I would pass on [Delaware forward Elena Delle Donne]. For whatever reason, I don’t see her in the W for more than a year or two. Now, could DC move up to score [Baylor center Brittney] Griner or [Notre Dame guard Skylar] Diggins? I don’t see that happening without a deal that means saying goodbye to C-Lang. If however, if Coach Thibault can work some magic without Langhorne in the mix, go for it. If not, develop through the draft, smart signings and trades.
Note: Be careful with deals so as not to miss out on the 2014 Draft's "Big Three!"
[Players like Maryland forward Alyssa Thomas, Stanford post Chiney Ogwumike, UConn center Stefanie Dolson, Baylor guard Odyssey Sims, and UConn guard Bria Hartley are all players who may be considered as early favorites to be part of this 2014 group]
EB: I believe they should do as much as possible to acquire one the ‘Big Three’. My preference is Skylar Diggins. This young lady brings what Katie Smith and Lindsey Harding brought to our squad in the 2010 campaign: leadership and skill. Also, her media friendliness will only help ticket sales. She’s a player the organization and fans can and SHOULD build around.
Ed: Thibault needs to do whatever he can to move up in this draft because we can't just wait patiently for a potential franchise player to fall in our lap. I would not be upset with Mike trading Crystal, anyone on the current Mystics roster plus the 2014 1st round pick if we are lucky enough to get the 1st pick from Phoenix, even though it does not seem realistic that we even have the collection of assets that could be fits for their team.
I think that moving up to #2 or #3 is more realistic, but again, it's likely that Crystal will have to be trade bait, and I would not be upset with it. I don't have a particular preference on whether we go for Skylar Diggins or Elena Delle Donne, but moving up to get one of those players on this team like the Redskins did to get RGIII can accelerate the rebuild process and allow Mike Thibault to do what he wants to do in the long term. I understand that though there are some good draft prospects for 2014, you can't just hope star draft picks fall in your lap because there is a lottery for those picks. And we have missed out on a number of star players simply because of that process.
SA: How many wins do you expect the Mystics to get in 2013? How long will it be until the Mystics are back in the playoffs?
Susan: Shouldn’t teams expect to win the championship every year? Why not a worst to first? O.K., seriously folks, I’m optiMystic and hope to see GM/Coach Thibault to secure 13 [wins] in 2013. Playoff runs begin by 2015. Deep runs by 2017. Go Mystics!