Mystics

Mystics' Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders opt out of 2020 WNBA season

Mystics' Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders opt out of 2020 WNBA season

Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud and forward LaToya Sanders have opted out of the 2020 WNBA season, head coach Mike Thibault announced on Monday.

Cloud's decision to sit out the 2020 season, which begins in late July in Florida, is due to her commitment to raising awareness of social justice issues and the fight for racial equality.

The guard, who is the franchise's all-time assist leader, posted a lengthy caption on her Instagram account explaining why she planned to sit out the season.

"This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career. But, I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season," Cloud wrote. "There’s a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest being that I am more than an athlete. 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 on the front lines for social reform, because until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter."

"We respect and support Natasha’s decision to prioritize her life and goals," Thibault said. "Her commitment to social justice issues is of utmost importance to her and, therefore, to the Mystics organization. We will continue to be partners with her and all of our players on their commitment to social justice reform as we go forward into this season and beyond." 

Cloud has been outspoken about social justice issues in America throughout her career and has been a prominent voice among D.C. athletes following the death of George Floyd on May 25. The guard wrote a lengthy letter calling for the end of silence around racism and participated in protests that followed. Last Friday, Cloud, alongside Wizards guard Bradley Beal, led the march in D.C. on Juneteenth to raise awareness for social justice issues.

RELATED: CLOUD BECOMES FIRST WNBA PLAYER TO SIGN SHOE DEAL WITH CONVERSE

Sanders' decision to skip the season was for her to do what she said is "best for my health and my family."

"This was not an easy choice to make, but after much thought and conversation I do believe it is what’s best for my health and family," Sanders said. "I wish my teammates and the entire Mystics family the best this season and I will continue to watch and support them."

The WNBA is set to tip off its season in late July at the IMG Academy in Florida. Both were key parts of the Mystics' championship run in the 2019 season, with Cloud tallying 18 points in the Mystics' Game 5 win over Connecticut (and having an extremely memorable moment in the Mystics' series against the Las Vegas Aces.)

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Mike Thibault calls Mystics' loss to Liberty one of the most embarrassing since he's been in D.C.

Mike Thibault calls Mystics' loss to Liberty one of the most embarrassing since he's been in D.C.

Things have taken a turn for the worst for the Washington Mystics after such a promising start to the 2020 season. 

A mere week after Washington started the year with a surprising 3-0 record, head coach Mike Thibault best described their third straight loss as one of the most embarrassing he's had in his coaching tenure while with the team. Falling to the Sabrina Ionescu-less New York Liberty, the Mystics had their worst offensive showing in over a year by posting only 66 points.

It's not exaggerating to say that Thibault is ticked. 

"This is my eighth year in DC, and probably in many ways that was one of the most embarrassing losses, if not the most embarrassing loss, since I've been in DC," Thibault said postgame.  "Not because we lost the game because of our approach, how we went about it. It's not the same that showed up and played the first couple games that we were here."

"That doesn't represent who we are as a Mystics organization and that was embarrassing." 

RELATED: EMMA MEESSEMAN FINALLY FINDS HER STROKE IN A LOSS

Entering the game, New York (1-5) had yet to win a contest on the two-week-old season. They led the Mystics wire-to-wire, held Washington to a season-low 37.7% shooting night and forced them to turn the ball over 14 teams. 

Washington's offense was sparse, inconsistent and lacked the physicality that the Liberty brought. The bench was basically nonexistent (six points). 

In addition, Thibault said the Mystics lacked urgency and displayed a poor basketball IQ from start to finish. 

All descriptions are a far cry from the incredible offense the Mystics had to start the year. The 3-0 spurt had the team humming at an incredible pace and looked like last year's buzzsaw team. But in every game the offense has struggled more and more, culminating in Friday's result.

The opposite of what was expected from the direction of the team this year.

"We have to find our identity," Aerial Powers said postgame. "It's like we're losing sight of who we are. The ball's not moving like it usually is."

There's not much time for Washington to regroup. The next game is less than 48 hours away, as is the norm this season with a condensed schedule due to the coronavirus. Thibault has been saying even he is still trying to figure things out after each loss.

It was evident that this team can work together and be successful - just look at the first three games. The problem is, the current version of the Mystics is far away from that.

"We just have to determine and find how we play," Emma Meesseman said. "So we know that we just have to play like we play. We know how we can do that. So I think this feeling we have now should be motivation enough. We use that tomorrow and the day after. We do our best to find ourselves."

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Emma Meesseman finally breaks through shooting slump, but offense goes cold in loss to Aces

Emma Meesseman finally breaks through shooting slump, but offense goes cold in loss to Aces

Finally, the 2020 WNBA season got to see some form of "Playoff Emma." Wednesday night, it was Emma Meesseman’s turn to light up the scoreboard against the Las Vegas Aces. But, her effort and 24 points was for naught. The rest of the Washington Mystics' offense went ice cold in an 83-77 loss in Bradenton, Fla.  

Meesseman expressed confidence, was aggressive and showed spurts that were familiar of her incredible WNBA Finals performance a year ago. Something that, frankly, has been noticeably absent from the Mystics' first four games of the season. Her 24 points came on a 10-for-23 shooting night, during which she made her first three 3-pointers of the season. She also made it a double-double with 13 rebounds to match her career high.

But the moment head coach Mike Thibault took Meesseman off the floor, the team struggled. Without Meesseman, the team was minus-nine. In fact, the Mystics struggled even when she was on it (minus Myisha Hines-Allen's 18 points). 

Take away those two and the rest of the team mustered 35 points a mere 35% shooting night and 22% clip from behind the arc. Washington also only grabbed seven rebounds outside of that duo.

"We got beat by a good team. We didn't execute as well. The biggest difference to me is pretty obvious, 30-11 free throw attempts," Thibault said postgame. 

RELATED: ESSENCE CARSON CALLS ON BUBBLE TO 'SAY HER NAME'

The Aces play a physical brand of basketball. It tripped the Mystics up once in the postseason a year ago in a pretty glaring fashion. This time it did so again in more ways than just a free throw discrepancy. 

After a hot first quarter from Meesseman, where she scored half of her point total, Las Vegas switched up its defensive approach. From that point, it was rare for Washington to not receive full-court pressure, even in transition. That style shut down the Mystics' fastbreak game and certainly their halfcourt offense. Culminating in the final quarter, Washington only produced 18 points as the game slipped away.

Hines-Allen and Meesseman were ultimately the only two able to slice through the Aces' defense. For Hines-Allen it was her fourth game with 15 or more points on the season. For Meesseman it was her first. 

"I'm happy she was aggressive and looking to shoot. Vegas seems to bring out the best in her," Thibault said. "It was good to see her be aggressive, we're going to need that and we're just figuring out things as we go."

Last year’s WNBA Finals MVP struggled, by her standards, in the first four games of the season. Teams double-teamed her, she struggled to find her shot and she often passed up scoring opportunities for her teammates. She was only averaging 11.3 points, was shooting 44% from the floor and had yet to make a 3-pointer.

Expectations were high for Meesseman entering the year. Being the biggest star remaining on a shorthanded Washington roster put the target on her after a career-year in 2019.  

Despite her struggles shooting, she had found ways to have an impact on the game. Entering Wednesday’s contest with 5.3 assists a night, she had the league’s fifth-best mark. An influence that Thibault was happy to see as he anticipated Meesseman would generate a lot of attention. Still, after the team’s first loss, he just wanted to see her shoot more

"Emma's the type of player if she's not making shots, she gets down on herself," Leilani Mitchell said postgame. "We just all happen to really around each other. It happens to people and I was super proud of her today for being aggressive and assertive out there."

That breakthrough comes in Washington's second loss of the season, moving the team to 3-2. A once potent offense has struggled in back-to-back games in two different ways. Good news is Wednesday night the Mystics finally got back to as much of full strength as they can be with Tianna Hawkins returning to the lineup. A back injury in the opening game sidelined her and reduced the 10-person roster to nine. 

Definitely a welcomed relief because a two-game losing streak makes up for one-ninth of the season. 

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