Mystics

Five WNBA offseason moves that could prevent the Mystics from repeating

Five WNBA offseason moves that could prevent the Mystics from repeating

Fresh off a new collective bargaining agreement, the WNBA was sent into a frenzy this offseason. Without question, this was the craziest free agency period in the league’s history. Teams were gifted the largest amount of financial flexibility ever. Restrictions on player movement were lifted and for the first time, nearly every team was in a position to buy.

That was reflected in the number of moves conducted once the offseason opened for business. Some teams drastically sold off pieces (Dallas Wings), others re-worked a strong core (Los Angeles Sparks), and others vaulted themselves into title contention.

But they are all chasing the Washington Mystics. Winning the 2019 WNBA Championship, they redefined how to win in the W with their fast-paced record-breaking offense. As they are bringing back a majority of their core, the Mystics should be the favorite once again. By adding former WNBA MVP Tina Charles, they got even better. And it’s become clear that some franchises are building their teams just like the Mystics. 

There are some moves, though, that could challenge the Mystics’ title defense. 

Here are the biggest offseason transactions that could prevent the Mystics from repeating this season. 

1.    Kristi Toliver leaves Mystics for LA Sparks 

This hurts Washington twofold: they lose their point guard and another contending team gets better. The double-whammy sends Toliver to LA, who were semifinalists just a season ago. Instantly they get an upgrade at a pivotal position, allowing Chelsea Gray to either come off the bench or give LA a two point guard-option on the court. Both were huge factors in the Mystics winning last year. 

But Washington losing Toliver hurts. Sure, one could make the argument that giving her a maximum deal as the Sparks did was unobtainable, but still there will be a drop off in production. Her replacement Leilani Mitchell is a formidable piece, but she won’t have the same role in the Mystics’ offense. 
On top of getting Toliver, they got another phenomenal guard in Seimone Augustus. She’s an eight-time All-Star that spent her entire career with the Lynx. 

2.    Mercury re-load with Skylar Diggins-Smith

It is hard to lose DeWanna Bonner in free agency and still consider your offseason a successful one (like the Mystics did by losing Toliver). That is exactly what the Mercury did by getting Diggins-Smith as a replacement. Arguably, she is the biggest free-agent signing of this offseason and now gives the Mercury a future past Taurasi.

A big three of Diana Taurasi, Brittany Griner and Diggins-Smith will do a significant amount of damage this year. Between the three of them, they have combined for 13 All-Star game appearances.

3.    The Sun acquire DeWanna Bonner

Connecticut made it to the Finals last year and got one of the biggest prizes of the offseason by trading for two-time WNBA champion DeWanna Bonner. By making this move, Connecticut is going all-in leveraging two top-10 draft picks to bring in one of the best forwards in the league. 

At 6-foot-4, Bonner can stretch the floor and open up Connecticut’s offense that was predicated on a lot of high-low action with Jonquel Jones last season. Jones additionally got re-signed, giving them potentially the best frontcourt in the WNBA.

Now, Connecticut did lose their dynamic leader in Courtney Williams – with a lot of drama between the two sides – and that will be a significant factor. But, the Sun was one win away from holding up the trophy at the end of the season. Adding Bonner gives the team a superstar and a system that could be problematic for Washington. 

4.    Atlanta goes all-in with a new core

The Dream posited themselves well, bouncing back from a bottoming-out type season. Atlanta brought in a serious core of new talent, including two stars from Connecticut in Courtney Williams and 3-point specialist Shekinna Stricklen. They also invested in their future by acquiring 2019 first-round draft pick Kalani Brown.

Williams puts the franchise in an immediate opportunity to at least contend for the playoffs. At the least, they will be far improved from their 8-26 season and will have a lot of directions the team could go.

The Mystics were scheduled to play them four times and will have a great influence on Washington’s win total at the end of the season. Historically the two teams are typically parallel in terms of results and are the geographic pair to one another. Last season Washington went 3-0 against Atlanta, blowing them out in all three contests in a down year for the Dream. They only won three games in the East last year.

With the draft capital the New York Liberty just pulled in, there will be a lot more parity in the Eastern Conference this season. 

5.    Storm re-sign Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird

The last team to have the Mystics number were the Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird-led Seattle Storm. Washington’s high-powered offense was matched and swept by the Storm in the 2018 Finals.

Neither Stewart or Bird suited up in Seattle last season and the team still managed a winning record. They found another growing star in Natasha Howard in the duo’s absence.

When the new season begins, both MVP-caliber players will be back. Stewart on a new deal for the next two seasons and Bird, 39, on a one-year contract. Their offense can keep pace with Washington’s blow for blow. This version of the Mystics have yet to prove they can beat Seattle in a series with those two on the court.

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Natasha Cloud shares her harrowing experience after getting pulled over by police

Natasha Cloud shares her harrowing experience after getting pulled over by police

Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.

NBC Sports Washington is launching the first part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America this week. Natasha Cloud, Mike Locksley, and Ian Mahinmi joined Chis Miller for the first of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.

Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud is one of the many faces of the Black Lives Matter movement within Washington D.C. sports.

She's vocal on issues more than just race relations and police brutality. She is constantly out in the D.C. community, fighting for reform. She's so passionate about her cause, Cloud is opting-out of the 2020 season to continue the momentum gained in the BLM movement over the past month.
 
And just like several other Black Americans, she has her own harrowing story of how she had to deescalate a simple traffic stop with the police merely a block from her home. 

"I've been pulled over in D.C. before," Cloud said during NBC Sports Washington's recent Race in America roundtable. "It happened right before this last season. A white man, a white cop, approached me at 1:30 a.m. in the morning, coming home from shooting at Entertainment and Sports Arena. ... I'm by myself, in my car, driving home to my apartment and he approaches my car with his hand over his gun. The latch was already undone and I hadn't been doing anything but driving myself home from shooting. Because I'm in a nice car, because my side windows are tinted, he approached me aggressively and in the wrong manner. The ticket I got was a window tint, but that window tint could have been my life if I hadn't deescalated the issue."

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH THE FULL ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION HERE

To ensure that she was able to get out of the situation safely, Cloud believed she was the one that had to remove the tension.

The officer kept looking in the back windows to see what was in the back seat. Cloud told the officer everything she was doing. When she was reaching to roll down the windows for him, even after he asked her to do so, she asked for permission.
 
Cloud said she asked twice if she could reach for her license and registration. Both times she told the police officer where exactly it was and where she was reaching.

"For me, I've always been taught, even though I grew up in an all-white family, my mom has made sure to tell me to put my hands at ten and two. Put your hands where you can see them. You say yes sir, you say no ma'am, be respectful," Cloud said.
 
But when the traffic stop was over, Cloud's work was not done. She made sure that she went to court, knowing that her window tints were too dark, but also to say her side of the story. Cloud felt the cop needed to be held accountable for how he approached the situation.
 
"I was lucky to have a minority judge, who also happened to be female and she ripped him a new [expletive] when I was in that courtroom."

RELATED: WHY CLOUD IS FOREGOING THE 2020 WNBA SEASON

This is part of the societal change that Cloud is continuously advocating. Police should not feel the need to further amplify a nonviolent situation and they should also be held accountable when they make a bad decision.
 
"We understand that not every cop is a bad cop," Cloud said. "There is a lot of good cops out there as well and there is more good cops than there is bad cops. But not every black person is a thug or a criminal and so you can't approach every black person as a threat. And I feel that is the No. 1 issue with [Black people's] interaction with police is that we're immediately seen as a threat. That [Black individuals are] immediately in defense mode because of the color of our skin. And that immediately escalates the situation even though it doesn't need to be escalated."

To watch the full roundtable discussion, featuring Natasha Cloud, Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley and Washington Wizards star Ian Mahinmi, click here.

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Converse will pay Natasha Cloud her forfeited WNBA salary by opting-out of 2020 season

Converse will pay Natasha Cloud her forfeited WNBA salary by opting-out of 2020 season

By sitting out the 2020 WNBA season to focus on fighting for social reform, Natasha Cloud has forfeited her salary for the season.

Her new shoe sponsor, Converse, will cover those lost wages and pay the Washington Mystics star the entirety of her forfeited 2020 salary, Converse told NBC Sports Washington. 

"Converse is so amazing. I knew immediately when I signed with them that this was a family atmosphere and that they cared about me. Not only what I do on the court, but I who I am off the court" Cloud told ABC News. "I wasn't expecting it, I knew the financial burden that I was taking on. My Converse family understands this is bigger than basketball and they want to support me in any facet and they wanted to make sure that me and family are okay during this time. It's huge."

Cloud announced her intent to opt-out of the newly constructed 2020 WNBA season last week. While the WNBA is allowing its players to not play this year without penalty, Cloud does not fall into a group that can still receive pay. Only players with medical conditions that make them more 'at-risk' to severe complications of the coronavirus can still be paid. 

RELATED: CLOUD'S OPT-OUT SHOULD NOT BE A SURPRISE

Converse released the following statement to pay Cloud's salary.

Converse has immense respect for Natasha Cloud’s decision to forgo the WNBA season. These systemic racial justice issues are bigger than basketball. To be able to put her career and passion on hold in order to devote her energy, voice and platform to change demonstrates her integrity and strength. We are proud to have her on the Converse team, are humbled to match her forfeited players salary and look forward to working together with Natasha on these issues as well as supporting her vision in this space. 

Cloud's contract for the 2020 season is worth $117,000, according to Spotrac. Converse is offering to pay a majority of that, as the WNBA sent out some checks at the start of the league year.

“There are a lot of factors that led to this decision (to opt-out), but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete," Cloud said in a statement. "I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

In early June, Cloud became the first WNBA player to sign with Converse. Not only did the company sign Cloud for her play on the court - a 2019 WNBA Champion and the Mystics' all-time leader in assists - but for not being afraid to take a stance and inspire change. 

Cloud originally postponed the announcement due to the death of George Floyd. She was a huge leader in organizing D.C.'s Juneteenth march and has continued to stay in the local conversation about race.

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