Taking a Devil's Advocate approach on five major points in the Washington Mystics offseason

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

I've been an advocate of change on the Washington Mystics roster and a good number of you all concur with those beliefs. But there has been a side that hasn't had a fair opportunity to be spoken for here, which consists of fans who believe that a massive overhaul of the core of the roster isn't necessary. So here we'll take a look at why.

Here are some things that I could see as talking points as to why I may be guilty of devaluing this team, and its players from the 2012 roster. In a poll where I asked who the most important Mystics player was for their long term future, as of April 30, there were more people who thought Langhorne was the most important player than Tayler Hill though it was very close. This is even considering the Boss' de facto vote for Hill as well. Basically that indicates that there are folks who are likely disagreeing with many of the viewpoints I have on this team.

I will also state that there are a number of Mystics fans who do believe that Crystal Langhorne is the future of this franchise despite the last couple of seasons and/or are not "all in" for a full rebuild, which I am fully in favor for. I'll put out some points that could be thrown out by those fans in that category, and put my rationale whay against each of these points. Much of them will utilize Mystics owner Ted Leonsis' Ten Point Plan, which is often hashed out again and again in talks about DC sports team building.

1. Crystal Langhorne is the future cornerstone piece of the Mystics in 2013 and beyond. Monique Currie and Ajavon are better players than what some folks are making them out to be because of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In addition, it's not like Langhorne and Ajavon are past their prime.

I know I've used age as a barometer, maybe even to a fault on how far players are in their prime, etc. And there is a point here with the last statement. Crystal will be 26 and will turn 27 after this season is over on October 27. Matee Ajavon will be 27 when the season starts. Only Monique Currie is now 30. From looking at age alone, the Mystics could have a future with all three players. Maybe we're guilty of not realizing that at least Ajavon and Langhorne are now veterans toward the beginning of their prime. So perhaps this core should stay together because there is a better coach will turn things around.

Why I disagree: Point 3 of Ted's Plan stipulates that a team when rebuilding needs to go down to the core and "bring the house down to the foundation." The way I interpret is that the core has to be broken up as soon as it's feasible. While it is commendable that Mike Thibault has added upside with the players who are surrounding the current "Mystics Big Three" without trading either of the three or the first round draft pick away in the process, he is at the end of the day basically doing the same thing that his predecessor did in the 2011-2012 offseason with the veteran movement. While a team is always the sum of its parts, the top players of the team are basically that team's "identity," and that identity hasn't changed, unless we want to call Tayler Hill the third member of the "Mystics Big Three" and many people including me will argue that she is but even then, the Mystics still have their top two players intact.

2. Playing Natalie Novosel significant meaningful minutes consistently in the 2012 season, a/k/a "Unleashing the Nasty" would have resulted in worse play than just playing the players ahead of her. And folks like thewiz06, blackandgoldforever and even Nate are too sympathetic for her.

I've been called out for this even last year early in the season as well as not too long ago. And yes, you can argue that playing Natalie Novosel major minutes could have made the Mystics even worse in the wins and losses column than playing the veterans. And latter half first round picks don't often have long WNBA careers. After all, her shooting was off though Nate's advanced VCR rating says that she may not have peaked yet.

Why I disagree: Read Point 5 of Ted's Plan. How can this point be followed with Jasmine Thomas each of the last two years and NOT with Natalie Novosel? That's all I need in my defense. Fortunately, Mike Thibault has a history as a scout and player developer in this regard, as we pointed out when Ted hired him. And with not many true wing players on this team, Novosel should be getting that chance this season and her shooting rates should improve because she should be in a rhythm more often.

3. If Natalie Novosel is someone that has to be kept, same goes for Jasmine Thomas, since she was traded away.

The Mystics had a total of two rookie and sophomore players last season who were Natalie Novosel and Jasmine Thomas. And last February, the Mystics traded Thomas away and didn't give her a chance to continue to develop in DC. And from hindsight, Thomas was basically indirectly traded for Kia Vaughn who is a veteran.

Why I disagree: Look at Point 9 of Ted's Plan where he says "don't be afraid to trade young assets." Sure, there is an emphasis on youth. But that by no means indicates that younger players with upside should be traded for veteran backups like what we saw in the 2011-2012 Mystics offseason. But also that doesn't bar any young player from being traded away either. So Mike Thibault followed this point pretty well. He wasn't afraid to trade a younger player (Thomas), albeit for a draft pick (the 7th pick in the 2013 Draft, and wasn't afraid to use that same pick on a more veteran player, being Kia Vaughn.

Like Langhorne and Ajavon, Vaughn still has much of her prime ahead of her, so she is in many ways is still a younger player. And that ties with Point 8 of Ted's Plan where veterans should be signed/acquired with shorter term deals, and in the WNBA, players deals aren't that long in general as opposed to the NHL which this plan is referring to specifically. I have reservations on the Vaughn acquisition personally myself, but she is an upgrade over the Mystics' options in 2012.

4. Tayler Hill was not the best player available after the Big Three. The Mystics should have picked Tianna Hawkins or Kelsey Bone and could have used them or other players as trade bait for more guards.

Most WNBA mock drafts, including those from ESPN.com and WNBA.com had the Mystics picking either Hawkins or Bone. To be fair, the WNBA.com mock draft did note that the Quanitra Hollingsworth deal made Tayler Hill a more obvious choice. Oh wait, I'm supposed to state WHY the post pick makes sense. Even in a chat a few days after the draft, ESPN's Mechelle Voepel still believed that Tianna Hawkins, whom she believed would be in Monumental Red this season even with Thibault making multiple moves for posts.

Lastly, it could be argued that even if the Mystics drafted Hawkins, maybe she could have been dealt that day for guards who could help them right away and that would help balance out the roster.

Why I disagree: Read Point 4 of Ted's Plan. In his words from that point: "Draft players that fit the system, not the best player." Fortunately Nate's draft board makes it seem that Tayler Hill was a great pick to make based on the tiers and she also was the best fit for the system out of the players available.

And assuming Tayler Hill becomes a possible "Plus One" player and the Mystics become a true perennial contender in a few years, I don't think that her pick would be a mistake. Besides the fact that drafting Hawkins or Bone would likely make them backups on a team that needed guard help, if they were traded to another team in exchange for guards, it's quite possible, if not likely that the Mystics would be trading youth for veterans, which goes against Point 4. I am confident that the Mystics made the right call here.

And when Nate's final mock draft nailed each of the top eight picks in that order, plus nailing nine of the 12 first round picks in their correct spots, that's saying something.

5. Why should Tayler Hill be called the most important player on this team when she hasn't played yet?

This is a legitimate question and Nate basically gives an answer here:

As weird as it is to think of this happening in a player’s third year, you could easily argue that Crystal Langhorne peaked “early” in 2010:

http://www.basketball-reference.com/wnba/players/l/langhcr01w.html#advanced::none

That could be attributed to injury to others and mismanagement, but if your question is about who’s most important for the future, I think Hill’s ceiling is probably more important because we pretty much know what Langhorne is going to bring at this point.

Another point just to throw out there: Kia Vaughn will be on her fourth coach in five seasons when this season begins. It will be interesting to see how much she can grow if she finds herself in a more stable situation.

Also, if I have to use one of Ted's Ten Points as a rationale for my answer, it's Point 8 which is to "identify and protect the [young] core." Tayler Hill has to be a member of this core and therefore the other players on this team need to complement her, not vice versa. I basically said the same thing as this point. The other members of the young core will play themselves in over the next couple years or so.

I know folks asking this question will say that maybe Mike Thibault has identified at least Crystal Langhorne as part of the young core as well. However, I would disagree with his assessment here, because considering that the decision to rebuild has been made, the team has to start from scratch, and any decision to trade her (or other 2012 players) away for more younger assets fits with Point 3. But given that Langhorne still has a lot of her best basketball ahead of her despite Nate's comment that she may have peaked in 2010, it's certainly possible and also realistic to see Langhorne as a major part of a successful Mystics rebuild as well.

In summary

Here are five major talking points of the offseason where we take an opposite approach on several major decisions made over the last several months to improve the Washington Mystics along with rebuttals or why I don't agree with them.

All that said, even with things where I agree or disagree on certain points, there is never any one "boilerplate" right way to build a team into a championship contender but to me at least, Ted Leonsis' Ten Point Plan is as good of a start as any out there for the Mystics to use as they try to improve over last season's performance. While the end results of any plan can differ, at least the fundamental principles make sense.

Most importantly, by no means am I trying to say what I believe is 100% right. But hopefully this does give some rationale on where the ideas are coming from. And also, by no means is the other side 100% wrong.

Lastly, training camp finally starts next week, so I look forward to stop speculating and start seeing exactly how this roster shapes out.

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