The Washington Mystics have committed to pay Elena Delle Donne her 2020 salary even if she does not play this year.
Delle Donne no longer has to worry about not receiving her salary after the WNBA denied her request to medically opt-out. The league rejected her request despite Delle Donne suffering from chronic Lyme disease which could make her more susceptible to complications from contracting the coronavirus.
Head coach and general manager Mike Thibault told reporters on Wednesday that the team will pay the defending league MVP as she rehabs from her back injury from last season.
"The Mystics organization will never put Elena's or any other of all other players' health and well-being in jeopardy at any time," Thibault said in a Zoom meeting with reporters. "As in the past, both with Lyme disease history and on-court injuries, all decisions about her ability to play will be made jointly with Elena. She is a part of our roster.
"She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable - I mean all comfortable - enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don't feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season."
Thibault also revealed in the meeting that Delle Donne is still recovering from offseason back surgery. She would not be ready to play in the WNBA's bubble which begins July 25, even if she opted to.
The last four months of the coronavirus pandemic interrupted Delle Donne's rehab. The team's facilities have been closed for a majority of that time essentially pausing most of her recovery. Regardless of the pandemic, Thibault says it still was going to be a factor when she could play.
Her surgery stemmed from her injury in the 2019 WNBA Finals where she had three herniated discs in her back. Delle Donne fought through the pain and helped the team win their first championship.
Since Delle Donne is rehabbing from an injury that occurred with the team, she still is getting paid her guaranteed contract.
"We can do anything we want," Thibault said. "We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She's a major part of our team and she's making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do."
This past offseason Delle Donne agreed to a four-year deal to remain in D.C. Even if she were to come back for a portion of an abbreviated 22-game season, the team still is missing several key pieces. Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders opted out already. Offseason addition Tina Charles is also in the medical protocol.
On top of Delle Donne risking her personal safety, rushing back would not be ideal for either party. Sure, she would greatly help the team's odds at defending their championship, but it's not worth the risk when hypothetically everyone can come back for a run at it in 2021.
Thibault made it clear, though, that her back issue has to be handled before she even thinks about heading to the bubble. Just because she is being paid that does not mean that she needs to try to travel to Bradenton, Fla during the season.
"I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don't want -- I'm in this and she's in this for the long haul," Thibault said.
"She just signed a four-year contract and our team, obviously looks different, without different players here and so our vision is you know 'let's do what's best for her and our team for the long run' and let's make sure that there's a long shelf life to our window of opportunity and she's such a huge part of that. We're not going to rush her, just to try to salvage a season right now."
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