Rarely are former league MVPs are traded across any sports league. In fact, in the 23-year history of the WNBA, only two former MVPs were traded away from one team to another.
Both of those MVPs, Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne, are now on the Mystics.
Acquiring a former MVP demands a mass amount of value in return. To get Charles, the Mystics traded away their 2017 first-round selection, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and four draft picks, including their next two in the first round.
That's five players for one. And while the one is a former MVP, she's 31, her MVP year was over seven seasons ago. She only has one year on her deal and comes to a team that last season had a far different than what she has played with the Liberty for the last handful of years.
But when you're the defending champions and have bench players that could be starters elsewhere, you have a lot of wiggle room.
“We’re in a very luxury spot right now," Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault told reporters on a conference call. "There’s nothing we have to do. None of our draft picks this year, whether we still had our first or not, were going to come in and be a key part of our team necessarily.”
"For me, I was glad to be done doing draft interviews and move on and know who our team is going to be."
The WNBA draft does not have the same weight as it does in other leagues. With 12 teams the star power is really spread out to each team and the cream of the crop are the prospects that elevate themselves to key roles. Only the top two to six picks, depending on the year, really see significant action or even have a chance to make a roster.
Kiara Leslie, the tenth overall pick for the Mystics in 2019, missed all of last year due to an injury. While her impact with the team is yet to be seen, the team had more than enough talent to win a championship without her. Leslie's involvement would have likely been limited.
Last year's No. 12 pick, which is where the Mystics were scheduled to pick this season, Ezi Magbegor from the Seattle Storm did not play a minute in the WNBA. Magbegor, who is one of the best Australian female basketball stars, remained overseas for a year before coming to play in the W for 2020.
In fact, only three of the last five No. 12 picks played in the league. Isabelle Harrison, drafted by the Mercury in 2015, now on the Dallas Wings, is the lone player that is an established starter.
"When you the 12th overall pick, you’re not getting a player who’s going to come in and necessarily impact your team. So we’re put in a position where we’re going to take a calculated risk on a player who has been an MVP and an All-Star and an Olympian,” Thibault said.
By adding Charles, Washington is one of two teams with two former MVPs on their roster, joining the Sparks. In some regards, the team is better than last year in terms of talent.
The impact of the seven-time All-Star for one season will be far greater than what the last pick of the first round will give a team in the near future. She still averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds last season on the worst team in the league and fits in a role that the Mystics need help in. For years, the team has kept a relatively small lineup. Some of their biggest threats have been the traditional post players of Liz Cambage and Brittany Griner. For the most part, Washington has contained those players in key moments, but Charles adds formidable size to at least counter their abilities.
Even if Charles only stays for a single season, her upside is too great to pass up. Even if she doesn't fit well with the Mystics, the team still has a roster full of defending WNBA champions.
Thibault believes that the one year deal she is on now will likely turn into multiple. He sees Charles' deal as a cautious move for a player that has never been a true free agent.
"I think that if this experience in Washington is what I think it will be for her, then there would be no reason for her not to want to come back here," Thibault said. "I have to feel confident that if we do the things that we’re capable of doing - and I know the kind of players that we have on this team and she’ll get to play with them - then this is going to be an environment, she’ll a) thrive in, b) enjoy."
The team will have no draft picks next season. If Charles does re-sign with Washington it will be worth not stocking up their developmental players for another year. Because if she does come back, even though there will be some salary-cap constraints, the team will be set up for several years to compete for multiple titles.
“We have a window that’s open right now for a while. The core of our team is 30 and under. You have a lot of our players in their mid-20s to late-20s. Elena is 30 and Tina and LaToya (Sanders) and Leilani Mitchell are the only players over 30. So, we have a window, and I felt like bringing Tina in we were kicking our window wide open to give us an opportunity over the next several years to compete for a championship. You never know how long the run is going go," Thibault said. "It doesn’t guarantee a championship, but it puts us in a position to be an elite team for a long period of time while our best players are in their prime or going into their prime.”
Yes, acquiring Charles required a large amount of draft capital. But assuming the Mystics were going to be picking late in the first round again next season, there is no guarantee that the pick, and especially the second and third-rounders, would translate into even a serviceable role player. Whenever you add a former MVP, you're always upgrading on at least one spot on your roster even if it's for only one season.
A calculated risk, with a low floor, that could result in one, or more championships.
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