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In her first season with the Washington Mystics, is it finally title time for Tina Charles?

Tina Charles wants a title! In her first season with the Washington Mystics, delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, can she finally fill that glaring gap in her otherwise illustrious WNBA resume?

WNBA All-Star Practice and Media Availability 2019
Can Tina Charles capture that elusive championship in her first season with the Washington Mystics?
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The best active WNBA player to never win a championship.

It’s an ignominious honor, reluctantly held by Tina Charles. The label captures Charles’ all-time excellence, yet it also amplifies the gap in her otherwise impressive resume.

Charles’ achievements include:

  • 8x All-WNBA
  • 7x All-Star
  • 4x All-Defensive
  • 2012 WNBA MVP
  • 2010 Rookie of the Year

Nevertheless, Charles herself admits that that absence — the lack of championship — gnaws at her. After a season away from the WNBA, can Charles finally fill that void?

Will the debut season of TC in DC end with a championship?

The chase for a title motivated Charles’s move to DC during the 2020 offseason.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic intervened. Due to underlying health concerns, Charles received a health exemption and opted out of the WNBA bubble. Her debut season for the then-defending champion Mystics thus was delayed.

This delay, however, has not diminished her drive for that elusive championship. At the Mystics’ media day, Charles responded to a question about her continued dedication to the game with the following:

I don’t have a championship. That’s what keeps me hungry, that’s what keeps me motivated. That’s what makes me want to continue to get better.

DC head coach Mike Thibault, who coached Charles during her first three WNBA seasons with the Connecticut Sun (including her 2012 MVP season), appreciates Charles’ hunger for a championship. After the 2020 season, Thibault discussed Charles’ deep desire for a title with the New York Times, saying:

I think that eats at her. I think she wants to re-establish that, ‘Look, I’m one of the top players and I can help a team win a championship.’ That was her big goal when she went to New York, and it didn’t work.

Charles also believes that Thibault is the coach who can deliver her to the promised land, as she told the Times, “He was the first person to believe in me. When you’re consistent as a coach, you know how to get the best out of your players regardless of who’s on your roster.”

In addition to her trust in Thibault, Charles also has expressed confidence in the Mystics’ overall roster. At media day, she emphasized the squad’s unselfishness, sharing:

Just playing with unselfish players. I think that’s the one main thing about DC, just how unselfish they are. How selfless they are. How they love to share the basketball. It’s great basketball and that’s because there’s a great coach behind them in Coach T. Everyone celebrates one another’s success. That’s something that, as easy I can say it, it’s not something that comes as easy to every locker room. So I’m looking forward to having that experience and just getting to know everyone and just getting better as a person as well.

Charles likewise is optimistic about developing a partnership with Elena Delle Donne. It is a partnership that was delayed by more than just one WNBA season, as Charles explained on media day:

We joke around saying ‘I guess it was meant to be.’ We were supposed to play together at UConn and she made her own decision. I think we have a mutual respect for one another, or I know we do. We were looking forward to playing. It’s not a lot of time spent, just due to the times that we’re in the gym, due to the COVID protocol. But I know as the season progresses I’ll get to know her more personally.

It seems Washington has the ingredients needed to fill that frustrating gap in Charles’ resume, and win the organization’s second championship in three seasons.

But it won’t be easy with the Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx all loaded with talent as well.

Why Tina Charles might remain title-less

In some of her media day comments, Charles intimated at some apprehension, or “angst,” about her integration into the Mystics after a season-long absence from the WNBA, saying, “I have a lot angst for different reasons. New team, new system, players. (There’s) nervousness.”

At the same time, Charles is confident about her ability to quickly find her footing, stating:

But I’m just going to go out there and play. I think that’s when I’m at my best, when I’m not thinking about anything and I just let the game come to me. Pick my positions, try to serve my teammates vocally in any way that I can. And I think any great player knows you get into yourself when you can dominate on the defensive end. And then everything else will happen on the offensive end. So I’m just going to start with defense, being vocal, being there, playing my role, rebounding, running the floor hard and everything else will come. It’s not really anything to think about. I think it’s like riding a bike in a sense.

Despite Charles’s prior success under Thibault, her place on the modernized Mystics does raise questions.

In 2019, Washington thrived with a space-and-pace system, making a WNBA-record 9.3 threes per game on their way to the title. The lithe LaToya Sanders, now an assistant coach, served as center. While she juiced the DC offense with her reliable midrange jumper, she also was an underrated defensive force, ably moving her feet on the perimeter and protecting the rim.

Charles, undoubtedly, is more talented than Sanders. But her throwback skillset is a bit of an odd fit in Washington. Although Charles possesses a lethal elbow jumper, her traditional province is the low post. Do her methodical post ups slow the Mystics’ high-octane offensive? Additionally, while Charles has been strong defender, she is 32 years old and has not played professional basketball in a year and a half, suggesting her quickness, reaction time and instincts could have atrophied.

Of course, Thibault has proven to be one of the sharpest evaluators and shrewdest strategists in the history of the WNBA. He probably should be trusted to establish offensive and defensive systems that optimize Charles without diminishing Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins or the Mystics’ other talents.

Nevertheless, these mild concerns, in combination with the loss of Alysha Clark, Washington’s hoped-for defensive specialist who is out for the season with a foot injury, could be enough to prevent Charles and the Mystics from reaching the mountain top.