Team Building Options For the 2013 Washington Mystics: Part 1 of 3

Links on the Draft Lottery and the Mystics

From ESPN (via my FanShot) | Ted Leonsis is disappointed | ESPN’s Graham Hays described Mystics representation as worse than some funerals after the lotto | My earlier FanPost before the lottery on what they need to do. | WaPo article on it | And the Washington Times

Links to the other parts:

Part Two | Part Three | Appendix on December 31, 2012


In the 2013 WNBA draft lottery, the Washington Mystics, the team with the worst record in the regular season, were selected fourth in next year’s draft. In all likelihood barring injury or another senior player having a monster season who could get drafted in the top three, this will prevent them from picking Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins, and Elena Delle Donne, any of whom would drastically improve the franchise’s hopes for the future, both on the basketball and marketing fronts.

I am deeply upset, but there’s nothing we can do about the order now. I held off posting this instead of last night to keep anger and shock in check.

So now that this process has happened what are the options that this team has to build its future? Either way, whatever route the Mystics take will be critical, not only for the team’s immediate and long term future, but I will go so far to say that whatever route this team takes may determine whether this team can ultimately survive in Washington, DC altogether. I didn't want to give an impression that this team is on the way out because no one gave that impression publicly, but at the same time, one franchise can only handle so much bad luck.

In addition, the most important hire in my opinion is the new General Manager and the new Head Coach, not the draft pick actually, even if the Mystics got #1. Whatever the GM and Head Coach do in their development of the first round draft pick, even if it was Griner as well as other youngsters, is critical to the team's new rebuild. Now it is more critical than ever that the team gets the right people in those spots.

This is the first of three parts. First, we’ll assume they’ll keep the 4th pick and go ahead with a youth movement.

Option 1: Keep The 4th Pick and pick the best player available, Build Around Young Players and a Few Vets From The Ground Up (a/k/a the Klopper Way)

This past season for 2011, the Tulsa Shock ended up with the 4th pick despite a league worst 3-31 record. This was disappointing of course, but Coach Klop didn’t whine about it. He and owner Steve Swetoha picked up Glory Johnson with the 4th pick in the draft, and ultimately built a roster made up entirely of players under 30 years old. No other team has that. Despite many close losses in the season, the Shock won 9 games for the season including winning three in a row toward the end. This was also without the Shock’s best player who either played on the bronze medal Olympic team, or stayed home afterward, where she said that she wanted to rest.

In short from the open threads all year, we all believed that the Shock played good basketball despite the overall youth, inexperience, and talent disparity of the roster compared with other teams.

The Pros of this plan for the Mystics:

  1. This is the classic Ted Leonsis rebuild and step one of being "bad by design" before being good. Let the youngsters play and see if they sink or swim. Let them all learn together and the chemistry will build and eventually get more wins. A strong team chemistry even with a bad team can get fans excited. This was the approach I wanted for 2012.
  2. With the 4th pick, the Mystics GM needs to pick the best player available whoever this is, whether it’s Markel Walker of UCLA, Tayler Hill of Ohio State University or local college star Sugar Rodgers of Georgetown University, who looks like a winner in yesterday’s draft lottery, assuming the Mystics want to hit regionalist tendencies and desires. In most other WNBA drafts, even above average ones, they would be higher picks. Whoever it is, she'll fill needs on this roster.
  3. Whoever the 4th pick is, will definitely play with a chip on her shoulder because there will be a perception that she is the first "so so" pick. This mentality could rub off on the entire team and help the team play better than expected over the long haul, especially with the right coaching and GM'ing.
  4. The team already is pretty veteran laden, especially at the top of the roster, the team doesn’t need to acquire new veterans since two of the top three players, Crystal Langhorne and Mo Currie, both also have local ties to the DMV, which has strong sentimental value for the fans who value regionalism to some degree. In addition, Lang, Currie, and Matee Ajavon will be among the team's top performers on the 2013 team with the 4th pick.
  5. With the Mystics being bad by design, it is likely that there will be another high draft pick for the Mystics in 2014 when AP 1st team All American Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas as well as other All Americans like UConn’s Bria Hartley and Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike would be available. Besides, before being good, a bad team must be really bad more often than not in order to acquire such assets over a couple years. Ask the Minnesota Lynx how long it took for them in the lottery to finally get things to fall into place.

The Cons of this plan for the Mystics:

  1. Do Mystics fans or whatever fans they have left, have the patience for this type of rebuild? The Wizards and Caps are both teams that are well established, and can afford this type of plan because it is highly unlikely that Ted is going to fold those teams after a few bad years or threaten to move them out of town. He owns the Verizon Center too which is a good facility to play in. The Mystics WNBA team is in a league that is still building its identity (I know, I’m using a Trudi Lacey reference here but it’s true). Unlike Tulsa where fans are more patient and in part because it’s entering its fourth season after relocation, the Mystics have already been in DC for 15 years. In particular for "Founding Fans," they may not have the patience to wait for a star and hope someone is giftwrapped here.
  2. To add to that do Mystics fans want to wait until 2014 and hope that Alyssa Thomas, Hartley, or Ogwumike can rival the impact that Griner, Diggins, and Delle Donne will likely have now?
  3. For marketing purposes, this plan will not get many folks dying to buy season tickets. On a national scale, other teams' fans who may want to catch a game will not want to see the Mystics when they come to their town.
  4. Well, the 4th pick doesn’t have buzz for a reason. Sure, she may be a great rotation player at least for another one of the lotto teams like Chicago or Phoenix, but here, she’s going to be a starter at least if not one of the best two or three players on the team. Even if the 4th pick and the Mystics play with a chip on their shoulders, it also wouldn’t be that surprising to see that they aren’t going to do much better on the court over the next few years as opposed to having one of the big three there for the next four years.
  5. The Mystics may still have a very similar roster next year as the 2012 team, especially at the top. Considering the last two years, this team is trying to have a true fresh start. Keeping the fourth pick and even with a youth movement may not truly allow that to happen. In addition, do Mo, Lang, and Matee want to be part of this? They may want out of here because with this plan, the Mystics will probably not contend for a championship over the next several years, even if they improve significantly next year and the year after that.
  6. Lastly with impatient Mystics fans specifically, the lack of making or attempting to make a power play move, especially after a new GM is hired may further dwindle the already beleaguered fanbase from the team. This will mean abysmal season ticket renewal rates for 2013, and could ultimately force the Mystics to fold, or relocate to another city when Monumental Sports sells the team off. While I hate to say it, that is certainly on the minds of Mystics fans, and even WNBA fans today. In short, Mystics fans may say that the team just took the easy way out without knowing that the GM is trying to do something aggressive.

So those are my thoughts on a youth movement. On one hand, this is great for basketball development, especially for youngsters. If successful, it could lead this team to having multiple good players on a strong playoff caliber team or better in the long run. But this team is also in bad shape in terms of talent, on the PR front, and fans are still very bitter and angry. Will they even want to give one last chance at such a strategy?

Let me know what you think.