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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