I already gave a summary on what this team did well, what it didn't do well, and what it must consider doing during the offseason and gave the Mystics a solid B+ for their season in my overall performance review for them.
How does Mike Thibault and his coaching staff feel about this past season?
Here's a video from Monumental Network which was from last month (click here if you are on an iOS device):
Now I'll put out the major issues this team must confront and/or address in the next several months.
1. Which members of the four member "2013 Rookie Unit" must remain for 2014?
This is the most important thing to take care of actually since this is completely in Mike Thibault's control.
Mystics had four rookies in 2013, three of them not first round picks, and it's unlikely that all four will be in Monumental Red for 2014 even though I wouldn't mind seeing them all back for 2014. Perhaps some of them may be cut, or could be pieces in a deal for an acquired player via trade. But still, with a team that is rebuilding, acquiring and developing rookies is the only way to go. Young players bring built in up-side. They also can play fearlessly together when with the right system and coach, and we got to see that, in particular with Emma Meesseman, Nadirah McKenith, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, and later on with Tayler Hill toward the end of the season.
Even though I would love to see all the young players back, we can't blindly just keep players just to keep them. So, if a team wants McKenith or Ruffin-Pratt, they should be tradeable in most reasonable deals. Ideally, the players coming in return won't be older players with little to no upside.
Based on what most of us have seen, if Thibault could only keep two players in his rookie class, he needs to keep Tayler Hill and Emma Meesseman. Hill is the Mystics' 2013 first round pick, and really came into her own in the latter half of the season and the playoffs. She is also the only "reward" for the 11-57 Trudi Lacey era as the 2012 first round pick was dealt in the Nicky Anosike deal, which was viewed as a good deal at the time, to be fair to everyone involved. Then Meesseman is a post who has some stretch post potential, and with additional strength, she could be one of the better posts in this league, and having her also should make some veteran posts expendable.
Speaking about Hill and Meesseman, here are their exit interviews below:
Then in another note, today is Tayler Hill's 23rd birthday! Happy Birthday Tayler!
2. The Mystics need to protect Ivory Latta from being dealt if they can just like they need to with Hill and Meesseman.
Veteran players need to be acquired and retained in any rebuilding effort. Like Thibault said in the video I embedded above, Latta was the team's biggest acquisition, not just because of her scoring, but also because she was the vocal leader that the team was missing during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Because of the combination of both of these things, Latta has to be protected from being dealt.
Though Latta played mostly with the team's veteran players (and I'll get to them in the next point), she still played a good number of minutes with the rookies, and appears to be a veteran that the young players in DC can have around without impeding their development.
3. The Mystics need to put their four remaining players from the 2012 team on the trade block and follow through in dealing at least some of them this offseason, preferably for younger players and assets.
I've said many times at length why they need to be dealt and most other commenters agree that at least some of them have to be dealt for younger players or draft picks. Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie, Matee Ajavon, and Michelle Snow all served us a ton of crow this past season which we rightfully deserved. But we also know that Mike Thibault is known for getting his teams to play closer to their potential than most can. Given that all of them are basically playing as good as they ever will be considering their age and other factors, we saw these players altogether show more value on the market than they probably ever will.
I'm also a firm believer that if a team rebuilds, every player from the previous regime must leave, in particular veteran players. Look at the Boston Celtics this past summer as an example and they were better in the NBA than the Mystics are in this league. But I believe that this current foundation and Mike Thibault's competitive spirit will most likely lead this franchise back on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity" and first round exits in the playoffs at best if they were to remain together for the next several years.
I did want to be proven wrong on the vets a month ago and even left the door open to seeing some of them back if they were able to beat the Atlanta Dream in the playoffs. In Game 3 of that series, Coach Thibault went against what I demanded and played them at the expense of Tayler Hill and the rookies. If they won that game I may feel different on it, but it didn't happen.
On the surface, it sounds very unfair for me to judge the Mystics' core vets based on one playoff series, but let's also keep in mind that with the exception of Snow, they've all been here in DC together since 2009 (Currie and Lang have been here longer) and already played two playoff series in the past when Julie Plank took the reins.
And here is an exit interview with Crystal Langhorne that is embedded below if you have a desktop, and click here if you are on an iOS device.
4. Will it be a disappointment if the Mystics don't improve their record in 2014?
To me it depends. If the roster is younger at the top and the other teams in the East are all healthy, and we see the Mystics' record go down to 14 to 16 wins and even miss the playoffs, I won't be all that disappointed and may even be more optimistic. Long term upside is what I'm thinking about. Remember that the Mystics' 17-17 record was also aided in part due to the fact that they were healthy and most teams weren't, especially with top players.
But with this team keeping the same foundation from the last several years and the recent improvement, there may be some fans who may just want the Mystics in the playoffs again regardless just because of the 2013 record. All that said, I don't see Mike Thibault standing pat this offseason with personnel even if the team does win fewer games next year.
5. Can the Mystics convince a superstar with at least some of her prime ahead of her to at least think about playing in DC either this offseason or next?
Multiple folks here, contributors and non-contributors have said this is a major obstacle toward this team winning it all. As I pointed out in final grades, the Mystics were the only WNBA team with NO INVITEES to the Team USA mini camp. On top of that, the Mystics do not have international talent who would have realistic chances to make the Team USA Olympic team if they were American (Emma Meesseman), or have dual citizenship in the case of Quanitra Hollingsworth.
Barring Tayler Hill or another one of the Mystics' now sophomores becoming a WNBA superstar in the next couple seasons or a future mid first round pick being a shockingly great surprise, the Mystics will almost definitely have to acquire a superstar via trade or free agency in order to be a long term contender. While I don't think the Mystics have to get this move done this offseason per se, they will have to try to in the next couple offseasons. Can Mike Thibault convince a superstar in free agency or having thoughts about playing elsewhere to come to DC?
Lastly, if the Mystics are in a position to get a superstar entering her prime via trade, they must be willing to trade anyone and any pick they have.
Those are the thoughts I have regarding the offseason for this team and the issues it faces. The 2013 season certainly was a very good start to the Mike Thibault era in DC. But this team still has a lot of work to do in order to be a perennial contender. It will be very interesting to see what comes about in the next several months, especially after a new CBA is ratified.