To be brutally honest, we had a lot of these questions even before this recent four game losing streak in regards to DC's personnel, and the balance of playing time between the veterans and rookies. During the break, I also posted evaluations on the Eastern Conference teams and what a best and worst case scenario for each team would be. I also posted something ominous and we're seeing this happen right now, and I don't find it that surprising:
[Seeing] Indy, Connecticut, and NY all collectively raising their games may be enough to bump the Mystics down to 5th or even 6th in the East due to talent alone. The Mystics have avoided the injury bug and are at 9-9 while most other teams in the league have had significant injuries too so it's arguable that this is an inflated record.
So far all three of those aforementioned teams have won games and DC has lost all of theirs.
After the Sunday beating the Mystics got from the Sparks, here's Mike Thibault's post game press conference from Monumental Network:
If there's anything that I took away from it, it's that he put the veteran players, in particular the players who have been with this team the longest, on notice. The four 2012 core players who were on this roster last year were the aforementioned Langhorne, Monique Currie, Matee Ajavon, all who have been her since at least 2009, and Michelle Snow who was acquired last year. And if anything, in regard to players passing on bad habits to the rookie players, you'd think that it's some combination of these four players, if not all of them.
So here are some quick questions for us to think about when it comes to the Mystics in terms of how "tradeable" they are whether now or in the offseason
1. Should the four 2012 core players be broken up? If so, should Crystal Langhorne be kept or should she be dealt?
To me the first question is rhetorical. No crap (I would say a better variant), the core has to be broken up. Mike Thibault's tried to fix this and fix that and talks about bad habits. At some point, he's got to change the personnel because at some point they're the problem as to why he can't do what he wants. And the problem is keeping these players. I also take issue with Marianne Stanley being here as well because she was part of the Trudi Lacey era too, but that's worth another rant.
I think most Mystics fans believe that the core needs to be broken up meaning that some combination of Currie, Ajavon, and Snow should be dealt for other assets. However, Crystal Langhorne's status is one that's up for debate. I believe that she needs to be on the block and that she should be dealt when a good deal comes along. Nate concurs, and a number of our other users, most of whom aren't Mystics fans also believe the same.
There are some others who believe that she needs to stay like Queenie and Swish Appeal user Fromwhereisit. One reason why Langhorne should stay is because she is a good rebounder, in particular on offense, and is a crafty post scorer. Another thing that may be a sign of how good Lang is, is that she was the subject of many double teams which Fromwhereisit noted in a comment especially during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and she may not have played at an optimal level at least in part because of that.
Regardless of what happens to Lang, the fact of the matter is this. The team's identity, which I'll define as the team's showcased players has not changed from the 2012 season. Last year, the Mystics featured these four pretty heavily in advertising, and this year, it's more of the same. Sure, Ivory Latta's now on the team, but all four of the 2012 players are still featured heavily and no one has really threatened their roles on the team for whatever reason. Therefore the identity of the team didn't change since Trudi Lacey took over the team.
I hate living in the past, but if the Mystics had a Big Three pick in the lottery for this draft, I guarantee you that this core would have been broken up, and that that draft pick whoever she is would be the undisputed franchise player. Getting the fourth pick basically allowed Langhorne, Currie, and Ajavon one last chance to redeem themselves and then show that they could lead a team deep into the postseason. I think they redeemed themselves to some degree. But I don't think this core will lead the Mystics to being a perennial contender.
For that I will embed Ted's video to Wizards season ticket holders again (also via Monumental Network), on the fact that dismantling teams to the core is often the right thing and sometimes the only thing to do. Mike Thibault and the Mystics MUST seriously consider the same if they want to be a long term contender. They're already close to doing it already so why just change role players? The first few minutes of this video basically recaps that process for the Wizards but the same concepts apply in large part and the rationale there is in large part why I am "pro-Tayler Hill and pro-Emma Meesseman:"
2. Was drafting Tayler Hill a mistake? If so, is it time to part ways with her?
Putting my fondness or unhealthy obsession for Tayler Hill aside where multiple people have called me out for it, she has not played anywhere near expectations as a lottery pick. I don't care if it's as the number one or number four pick. She hasn't gotten the job done. Even if I wasn't a DC fan, I think a large part of the problem is because Currie and Ajavon both play similar roles to what Hill does as a perimeter scorer. Then Ivory Latta also needs the ball to be effective as well.
Queenie wrote in her post yesterday that perhaps the rookies minus Hill are playing well because they're playing together and not with the veterans being an implied signal that they have to defer to them. I think Hill when she was starting deferred to them because really, there were no other rookies with her, and also the veterans, in particular the 2012 core players were hungry to redeem themselves. Now, Hill gets put in the second unit which probably isn't something she liked and she's still struggling in many ways in terms of scoring, which is what she was drafted for.
I still don't believe that it's time to cut her or trade her in most circumstances, barring a deal where a major player comes to DC. A first round draft pick, especially a lottery pick on a team with a roster like DC's needs to be given a full chance to show what she can do without others impeding her development. I think having Ajavon and Currie both on the team in terms of basketball roles, not as people/mentors was something I saw as a red flag from the beginning, and unfortunately, Coach Thibault didn't take into account that Hill may just be very tentative when on the court with them and she has.
So look, Hill gets along with Currie off the court. She's said that in Q&A's and stuff. That's great. But if they both do the same things and Hill's deferring to Currie, that's a concern too. This is not unlike the situation the Memphis Grizzlies had with Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph all together and crowding the post last several years. Eventually, the team dealt Gay. The Mystics are kind of in this situation as well but they're not as good as the Grizzlies.
And going back to the 2013 WNBA Draft, some of you may have seen that I believed that Layshia Clarendon or Kelly Faris could have been good fits here because they are more used to being off the ball than Hill is. Part of that was because Ajavon and Currie were still in Mystics uniforms then and still are. And then you have to wonder if it was better for the Mystics to have selected Kelsey Bone at #4 despite her shooting efficiency and turnovers based on Nate's number crunching, or even Tianna Hawkins.
But given that the pick has been made, I am still supporting Tayler Hill until she's out of here. I would do the same for anyone else who was the first round pick.
3. Is it better for the Mystics to just "play for next year" than try to make the playoffs?
This question is up for debate among many Mystics fans. Many fans believe that the team has to play hard and go for it. After all, no one plays to lose.
But as I said in DC's worst case scenario for the midseason, the other teams in the East, have more talent and if healthy and with good chemistry, they should be able to beat DC, even if Thibault can coach them at a high level. With Jeanette Pohlen coming back for Indy, New York beating DC in both matches so far, and the Sun winning two of their last three since the break, the Mystics can easily be sixth in the East, though they won't be like they were last couple seasons. So if the Mystics do miss the playoffs, I'm not going to cry about it and I think they certainly can use another lottery pick. That will continue to allow Coach Thibault to develop his younger core, the core that's going to be the group which leads this team to perennial future success. Under no circumstances do I want to see tanking or just seeing the Mystics lose games and not see the rookies get time. Many of the last losses are reminding me of the 2012 debacle.
Some trade frameworks to consider for discussion
I'll throw some frameworks for deals that I can see to jumpstart the team but could also help others. I won't call them all out trades per se given that we don't know the exact salaries of the players. Also some fringe players and/or third round picks, etc. could be used as sweeteners for DC or another team.
1. Washington Mystics acquire Monica Wright, Lindsey Moore, and a 2014 1st round pick from the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for Tayler Hill and Monique Currie. I will give Swish Appealer Shades props for this framework though I added Currie here.
For DC, Wright should easily be a starter for the Mystics, even if Matee Ajavon stays. Lindsey Moore is an added prospect and a sweetener as well as the 2014 1st round pick who would be nothing more than an extra dancer after each Lynx home win. For Minny, Hill is an adept scorer if utilized correctly off the bench and could perhaps fill Wright's role which is what this deal would be for. Currie will get ample minutes at the 2 and 3 off the bench to back up Maya Moore, and she'll get a real shot to winning a championship.
It's also an OGS move since Wright's from the DMV, and Hill is from Minny. Wright's hubby-to-be who's also from the DC area and may also want to wear Monumental Red if his current team can't get it done... If his wife is playing for the Mystics.... first couple in basketball in the Nation's Capital anyone?
I don't want to see Hill go because I want to see her develop here and have Ted and Thibault give her a full commitment here. But having said that, getting Wright to DC could be a move not unlike James Harden going to the Houston Rockets if she keeps playing the way she has been and gets true starter minutes while playing for a coach who I believe is better than Reeve...
As for Wright's soulmate... you never know what Jay-Z is whispering into his ear (and Skylar Diggins')... Also this deal could be lopsided for Minny but then again dealing Wright is a sign that they needed to free up space long term for Maya Moore. In order for this deal to be a fair one for DC, Wright needs to be a star guard once she's in Monumental Red right away for basketball reasons, not because she is the one who gets a particular NBA star thunderstruck in her presence.
2. In an offseason deal in the 2013-2014 offseason after free agency, the Washington Mystics acquire Tina Charles (sign and trade) from the Connecticut Sun in exchange for Crystal Langhorne, Emma Meesseman, and a second round pick for 2014.
For DC, this deal would reunite the 2012 WNBA MVP with Coach Thibault and give them an A-list star and this deal still lets the Mystics keep their 2014 1st round pick. Griffin is playing small forward for the Sun and could do the same for DC in the rotation since DC lacks such a player behind Monique Currie. For Connecticut, they get a post in her prime with Langhorne who can play at a higher level for a longer time than Asjha Jones. Emma Meesseman was a diamond in the rough for the rookie class, and in Connecticut she will be working with one of the best posts of all time in Anne Donovan and should be getting good time.
I find this deal less "realistic" than the first one, but at the same time, if Tina Charles is unhappy there or would rather be coached by Thibault, it is more realistic that the Mystics could even get away with just dealing Langhorne, but I don't see this deal happening unless the Mystics give up more assets besides just Lang. Giving up Meesseman may make things more palatable for the Sun.
These are just some of the frameworks I can think of. At the end of the day, I think EVERYONE on the Mystics is tradeable, though some players need to be kept if they can. First, all of the rookies, in particular Hill and Meesseman should be kept if they can because the team needs to build around drafted talent, and more specifically Mike Thibault drafted talent. They should be identified now as building blocks for the future if they haven't already.
Hill should be kept because she's a lottery first round pick in her second year, and Meesseman should be kept because she really has shown a lot of unexpected promise right away. That said, both deals I outlined here are those that I either like or at least can put this team on a track toward long term success, even with rookie pieces being involved in both deals. Second, among the vets, Ivory Latta needs to be kept if at all possible even though she's not perfect. Also, there needs to be a veteran core player and I think Latta has shown that she can be that core veteran to guide the young core.
What do you think Thibault should be considering at the trade deadline, and also in this offseason?