On the same night when the Washington Wizards soundly defeated the Miami Heat, 114-93 at Verizon Center, Mike Thibault and his staff were in the same building, busy at work trying to improve the Mystics for the future. In a video interview with Monumental Network's Casey Phillips which you can see above (click here for the video if you cannot see the embed above), Thibault gives his breakdown of what their first round draft pick, Stefanie Dolson, and their acquisition of Bria Hartley and Tianna Hawkins bring to D.C. this summer.
In the third round, they selected Australian center Carley Mijovic with the 30th pick and NC State forward Kody Burke with the 32nd pick. At first glance, I don't expect to see both of them make the opening roster, but we'll see how things go during training camp.
So here are three questions that I was thinking about after the WNBA Draft ended.
What do Dolson, Hartley, and Hawkins in particular mean for the Mystics?
The three represent a continuation of a youth movement in Washington, D.C. and are players who could fit into a more uptempo style that Thibault is trying to run. The Mystics need a group of young players who can grow together, play a good amount of meaningful minutes together, and become a great unit over time. That is what we saw with the four rookies who made the team last year, and we can expect to see more of that this season.
Dolson and her ability to make plays for others are something that could help increase ball movement and her shooting range has been improving throughout her college career. She is also the WBCA Defensive Player of the Year, and will help the Mystics out on that end as well. Hartley on the other hand could provide more perimeter scoring off the bench this season, and also develop under the guidance of veteran guards Kara Lawson and Ivory Latta, both of whom figure to be the starters and leaders for the team this season.
Hawkins was a player who could have been the Mystics' first round pick in 2013, but last year, she would not have played much with Crystal Langhorne, Michelle Snow, and Kia Vaughn taking most of the minutes in the post, and Emma Meesseman would need some too. With Langhorne now in Seattle and that Snow won't be back on the team for 2014, Hawkins should have a steady flow of minutes to develop and grow, minutes she would probably never get in Seattle.
Did the Washington Mystics get the "bottom end" of the deal for Bria Hartley and Tianna Hawkins?
There could be an argument made that the Seattle Storm "won" the Hartley/Hawkins deal where they acquired an All-Star while the Mystics would get "unproven players" who may not pan out.
However, the Storm intends on making at least one more run for a WNBA championship while Sue Bird can still play at a high level. With Lauren Jackson sitting out for the second straight season and the retirement of Tina Thompson, the Storm was looking for any veteran help to fill in the void, even if it meant trading away younger assets. The Mystics do not figure to be in the championship picture in 2014 anyway and they are still in rebuilding mode so long term, this is a good deal for the future.
When you look at Ted Leonsis' Ten Point Plan, perhaps the Mystics are using this framework within a WNBA context. Unlike the NHL or the NBA, there aren't as many teams in the WNBA so trades are harder to come by. After all, there were no midseason trades in 2012 or 2013. And the core player designation makes it a lot harder to see superstar players change teams. So from hindsight, that may be partly why it took longer for Coach T to trade Crystal Langhorne assuming he wanted to do so from the beginning of his time in D.C.
But for the trade itself, it follows point three of the Plan pretty closely:
Once you decide to rebuild--bring the house down to the foundation--be consistent with your plan--and with your asks--we always sought to get "a pick and a prospect" in all of our trades. We believed that volume would yield better results than precision. We decided to trade multiple stars at their prime or peak to get a large volume of young players. Young players will get better as they age, so you have built in upside. Youngsters push vets to play better to keep their jobs, and they stay healthier, and they are more fun--less jaded by pro sports.
So I do like that they traded a star player in her prime (Langhorne) for a pick (in essence it's Hartley) and a prospect (Hawkins). And with the foundation of the team, the Mystics have now basically gutted it down. Only one current player, Monique Currie, was on the 2012 team.
Will the Mystics miss the playoffs in 2014 now that Langhorne's out?
I will say that it is a real possibility that the Mystics could win less than 17 games in 2014, and miss the playoffs. But even if they didn't make this trade, I believed that the Mystics could also miss the playoffs.
After all, New York got Tina Charles to play alongside Cappie Pondexter. Connecticut now has the #1 and #4 picks in the 2014 Draft and they could get back to the Playoffs with them. Atlanta and Indiana also don't show signs of slowing down either. Chicago could very well have the best team in the East for the next several years.
But the win and loss record for the Mystics in 2014 shouldn't be how we end up judging that deal. Besides, if they did miss the playoffs this summer, they will have a chance to add another piece to their already significant group of younger players while also having some strong veterans to lead them in the meantime.
What makes this deal great for the Mystics is that their ceiling is now higher after the Langhorne deal, even if they are worse today, right now. So if the Mystics miss the playoffs, that's fine if the younger players are developing positive chemistry and winning their fair share of games along the way. With Coach T leading this group of younger players, along with their veteran leaders like Kara Lawson and Ivory Latta, this shouldn't be a problem.
Bottom line: Though the Mystics aren't championship contenders today, this move may help build a path to build such a contender in the future, and hopefully sooner rather than later. And another thing about the Langhorne trade: It is a sign by Thibault that he is not willing to put up with the status quo.
To use another Monumental team as an example, here is a link to a recent interview Leonsis did with Phillips on the Washington Wizards' progress which you can read at SB Nation's Bullets Forever. Leonsis mentioned that he would not rest until the Wizards are "honest competitors" for an NBA championship which is point one in that piece. Hiring Thibault and also seeing him make moves to increase the team's upside during the offseason also show that Leonsis (and Thibault) won't rest until the Mystics are "honest competitors" themselves.
I know I've been critical of Crystal Langhorne, in particular over the past couple seasons as to whether she can make that next step to be a franchise superstar. However, like Matee Ajavon who was dealt to the Atlanta Dream in March, Lang's been on this team for a very long time, and it is bittersweet to see her no longer in D.C. She was a class act for the Mystics and the fans. And she was a bright spot for this team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons when there wasn't much to root for.
So Crystal, thanks for being a long time member for Washington's WNBA team and for being one of the team's bright spots during many of the hard times. Best of luck in Seattle where you will have a chance to help get their team back to the Finals for the first time since 2010.
And for the Mystics, I am also happy that they have drafted and acquired multiple younger players who all could have a great future in D.C. and improve the long term trajectory of their team and I'm looking forward to this summer.