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2024 WNBA Free Agency: Delle Donne’s announcement throws a wrench in Washington Mystics’ offseason plans

The Washington Mystics had hoped to acquire compensation for Natasha Cloud, who departed in free agency, and Elena Delle Donne, who is sitting out the 2024 season. Instead, DC must begin a rebuild from a deficit.

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics
With Natasha Cloud departing and Elena Delle Donne sitting out, what’s next for the Washington Mystics?
Photo by Kenny Giarla/NBAE via Getty Images

This was not the offseason the Mystics had in mind.

After Washington extended a core qualifying offer to Elena Delle Donne last month, she made the shocking decision to step away from basketball, putting the Mystics in a serious predicament. Washington was hoping to get something of value in return for trading the two-time MVP, who had indicated she no longer wished to play for the Mystics. With her shocking announcement, the Mystics have to pivot.

But just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, the Mystics also lost the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, Natasha Cloud. An unrestricted free agent, Cloud signed with the Phoenix Mercury.

Washington was looking to expedite the rebuilding process, but these two moves really threw a wrench in their offseason plans. It is possible that Delle Donne returns a year from now and a trade could be worked out, but, if her plan is to retire, the Mystics will not be able to get a return back for her. General manager Mike Thibault has mentioned a potential Emma Meesseman return to DC, but that likely won’t happen for at least a year.

So, as you can see, this has been an unideal free agency so far for Washington, but let’s look at some of the positives of this offseason.

What Karlie Samuelson brings to the Mystics

On the first day of free agency, the Mystics brought in Karlie Samuelson from the Los Angeles Sparks on a two-year deal.

The Stanford product has moved around the league since her rookie season in 2017. She hasn’t found a home yet and, for the most part, didn’t receive consistent minutes until last season. For the first time in her career, Samuelson started the majority of the season and averaged 26 minutes a night.

She posted career highs in points and 3-point field goals last year, which is exactly what Washington needs given their struggles from beyond the arc. Samuelson is a movement shooter. Los Angeles would often run pindowns and floppy actions for her to catch and shoot 3s or attack off dribble hand-offs.

The last time the Mystics really had a legitimate movement shooter on the roster was pre-injury Kristi Toliver, and she was still the primary ball handler on the team. I would love to see the Mystics base their offense around more movement and handoff actions to maximize their offensive potential; Samuelson can play a big part in that.

What’s next for the Mystics?

The top priority remaining for the Mystics will be deciding what to do with their remaining $524,000 in cap space. The Mystics signed DiDi Richards, Emily Engstler, Julie Vanloo and Elissa Cunane to training camp contracts. It’s certainly possible one or more of them could make the active roster. Given how this offseason has gone for Washington, I’d expect more moves to be made in the near future.

The Mystics also own the No. 6 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. It’s imperative that they get this pick right. There is plenty of talent so Washington should not draft for fit. Take the best player available or trade back for future picks. That has been the direction of the team.