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(Updated) 2021 WNBA Free Agency: Mystics able to keep Natasha Cloud and give her big pay day

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Natasha Cloud spoke to the media on a Zoom call on Wednesday and discussed her re-signing with the Washington Mystics, her continued commitment to social justice reform and her role in bringing Alysha Clark to DC.

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Five
Natasha Cloud averaged nine points and 5.6 assists per game in her most recent season played (2019).
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Washington Mystics announced the re-signing of Natasha Cloud on Wednesday and Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV reported that the contract is for three years and that Cloud will be paid $190,000 in 2021.

In addition to that news, Mystics center LaToya Sanders announced her retirement on Monday, the same day the team signed Theresa Plaisance to a training camp contract.

“(I missed) this family,” Cloud said in a Zoom press conference on Wednesday. “This is a family here. This is not just an organization.

“To not be able to go into work every day and see everyone’s faces, all that little stuff that can sometimes get taken for granted. I missed that dramatically last summer, especially with how heavy that summer was. To not have that outlet of the court, to not have that outlet of our team, it was really hard to kind of decipher through my feelings.

“But the crew is back together, so I am super excited to be back.”

When asked about getting back into a rhythm after missing last season, Clark mentioned playing in Italy for about a month and a half recently, saying she’s not “too rusty.”

Cloud sat out last season to focus on social justice reform and was one of the leaders of that movement. She doesn’t want to let up in that arena as she returns to the court.

“The plan going into 2021 is kind of very similar to how it was in 2019 when I took on gun violence in DC,” she said. “My goal is to always be a champion on the court for the Mystics, but also to be a champion in the community.

“We understand that we play in the most powerful city in the world. With that comes responsibility, so you see this “District of Change” (movement). We made a commitment ourselves as an organization to be more than just a trend. This is our identity, this is who we are and this is who we will continue to be.”

Cloud’s teammates made their voices on social justice heard from the Bradenton, Fla. wubble in 2020 and also improved as players. Cloud was quick to show her excitement over how the team has changed in positive ways since winning the championship in 2019.

“Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen, it’s no secret that they stepped up, not only their play, but also as leaders and their vocality as leaders,” Cloud said. “I’m so proud of them. I know that last season wasn’t what was expected, it was a weird moment. Obviously at the end it was a pretty hard loss. But there was so much good that came from that as well as far as experience, as far as them stepping out of their comfort zone into leadership roles.”

Cloud also mentioned being a part of successfully recruiting two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark to the Mystics.

Clark can fill in at the small forward position for Aerial Powers, who is off to the Minnesota Lynx. She is one of the best defenders in the WNBA, having made the All-Defensive First Team by unanimous vote in 2020 and the Second Team in 2019. She also led the league in 3-point percentage (52.2) last year.

Clark’s pay is going to be $183,000 per year over two years.

On Feb. 5, the Mystics announced the signing of Erica McCall and the re-signing of 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles, who was traded to the team prior to the 2020 season, which she missed with a medical exemption.

Charles’ extension is for one year at $175,000. Meanwhile, McCall comes to Washington via a sign-and-trade with the Lynx, who received Washington’s third round draft pick for 2022.

The Mystics were one of the teams hit hardest by opt outs in 2020. Cloud, superstar Elena Delle Donne, Charles and Sanders all missed the season.

Washington seemed like a solid candidate to defend its 2019 championship before the opt-outs, but was not able to advance past the first round of the playoffs with the cast it ended up with.


By the numbers*

Free agents (type) (average salary) (new salary)

  • Emma Meesseman (unrestricted) ($215,000)
  • Tina Charles (unrestricted) ($149,333) ($175,000)
  • Natasha Cloud (suspended-contract expired) ($116,000) ($190,000)
  • LaToya Sanders (suspended-contract expired) ($116,000)
  • Aerial Powers (unrestricted) ($80,000)
  • Tianna Hawkins (unrestricted) ($70,033)
  • Alaina Coates (unrestricted) ($57,000)
  • Kang Lee-seul (suspended-contract expired) ($57,000)

Team figures

Total average salary of free agents Meesseman, Coates and Lee-seul: $329,000

Total team salary: $1,163,740

Cap space: $175,260

Analysis

Washington Mystics v Phoenix Mercury - Game One
Emma Meesseman won the WNBA Finals MVP award in 2019.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

With Cloud signed at $190,000 in 2021, the Mystics have nine players under contract and are just $870 shy of being able to pay three more players all at the player minimum. However, if they elect to sign just one more player at the player minimum (Jacki Gemelos, Stella Johnson or Sug Sutton), they will have $116,550 left to pay their 11th player.

This biggest remaining questions for Mystics fans are “will the team keep Emma Meesseman and will she play this year?”

“We’re not even working on a deal right now,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault at Wednesday’s Zoom conference. “That’s going to be something that we discuss later on with her. There’s no plan to have her here at the start of the year. Not by her or by us. It would be hard on us salary cap-wise to have her come here, be signed and then leave again. We don’t have that kind of cap and we’ve known that for a while.

“She and I have discussed what the end of the season could look like, but she’s got national team commitments for a long time. ... If she comes, and we’re hoping she does, it will probably be after the Olympics on a prorated salary for the balance of the year. That’s just what her schedule dictates.”

We previously reported:

At age 32, Charles is still at the top of her game and therefore deserving of the $221,450 supermax salary. However, speculation that she would take less money to remain in Washington has come to fruition as she is only going to be paid $175,000, which is even less than the $190,550 max.

Erica McCall is the ninth player under contract for the Mystics and she will be making $72,000 this year, leaving the Mystics with $248,260 left to pay two to three more players. ... The most the Mystics can pay Natasha Cloud and still keep 12 players is $130,840.

In addition to the Tina Charles and Erica McCall news, it was announced on Thursday that Mystics free agent Tianna Hawkins has signed with the Atlanta Dream. She got a nice raise, up to $140,000, which is likely more than the Mystics could have afforded to have their Tina Charles plan work out.

Before the news of Aerial Powers and Tianna Hawkins leaving, we reported:

Aerial Powers is deserving of at least $100,000 (up from $80,000) if not much, much more. That’s where the Mystics run into the issue of how to keep her. Hawkins meanwhile, will likely see a pay raise of some sort even if she stays in Washington, maybe up to $90,000. She makes just $70,033 and saw increased playing time last year while keeping her scoring at a good level.

If Charles, Meesseman, Cloud and Hawkins all get the high end of their pay raises, Sanders gets paid the same amount and the Mystics keep 12 players, they would be left with $113,780 as a maximum to pay Powers. And after what Powers showed when she averaged 16.3 points in six games last year, one would think she could be a top three or four player on a weaker team and make a lot more money. If she hadn’t gotten hurt, she may be mentioned with Myisha Hines-Allen and Betnijah Laney right now as a player whose stock went through the roof. So, in the end, it will be hard for the Mystics to keep her.


This story has been updated to include the additions of Alysha Clark and Erica McCall, the signing to a training camp contract of Theresa Plaisance, the departures of Aerial Powers and Tianna Hawkins and the re-signings of Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud.

*All WNBA salary information courtesy of Her Hoop Stats and Spotrac and is current as of March 3, 2021.