Trading for a former WNBA MVP is never an easy task, but it helps when that player wants the trade to transpire.
That is how the Washington Mystics pulled off one of the biggest trades of the 2019-20 offseason. Tina Charles wanted to come to D.C. and it led to a path for the Mystics and New York Liberty to move the 2012 MVP.
A couple of months ago Charles began the process by asking the Liberty permission to speak to the Mystics. The 6-foot-4 forward/ center was a designated "core" player entering the offseason, giving New York exclusive negotiating rights. While she was technically a free agent, both parties had to agree to any transaction out of New York. She chose D.C. instead of returning to the Empire State.
"It was her choice," Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault told reporters on Wednesday. "She took her time to think about it and informed New York a few weeks ago that she would like to be traded [to DC]. And ever since that time us and New York have been negotiating on the deal."
It worked for both sides. Charles, at 31, is on the downside of her career and might have missed her chance to win a title if she stayed with New York as they rebuild.
"Tina's in a position where she wants to compete for a championship sooner than later as an older player," Thibault said. "It's been a couple of weeks in the making. [The Liberty] clearly were motivated to get it done before the draft so that the draft picks would play a factor for them this week."
Bringing in a player like Charles gives the Mystics an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent on the team. Already two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne is inked long-term and they also have Emma Meesseman coming off of an incredible WNBA Finals appearance.
However, there is no guarantee that all three could be on the court given the current coronavirus pandemic. Meesseman is overseas in her home country of Belgium, where there is currently a non-essential travel ban to the United States. Charles could be an "insurance plan" if Meesseman cannot get back into the U.S.
"No question that factored into it for us," Thibault said. "Our biggest hurdle with Emma will be getting her in the country once the whole thing is done and whenever we get around to playing."
Charles is five years older than Meesseman but has developed the versatility that the Mystics have embodied over the past several seasons. Stepping out from the post and behind the arc, Charles has added range to her game despite just 17 3-point attempts in her first six seasons in the league. Charles could work as dual-threat power forward for Washington, but the team, in a perfect scenario, wants her to be back to her old MVP self.
"Part of my talk with her is I thought that she needs to get back to playing a little bit more in the low post than maybe she did the last two years," Thibault said. "On our team, she'll get more single coverage or if she gets double teams she's got a lot of really nice options to throw the ball to. I think that's a big difference."
Admittingly, inserting Charles into the lineup will take some time to provide dividends. Thibault expects that. She won't be the focal point and that may take an adjustment by her and the rest of the roster. This situation is different than New York - which won a combined 17 games the past two seasons. She'll be added to a championship rotation and be able to just focus on her game.
"When she first went to New York from Connecticut she felt the pressure of being the centerpiece of a team that would be built around her to win a championship," Thibault said. "I think a couple of years ago when we knocked them out of the playoffs that was - for the lack of a better term - the end of their upswing. I think she's coming here for, in her mind, a fresh start."
With Delle Donne and Charles, the Mystics join the Los Angeles Sparks as the only two teams with two former MVPs on their rosters. Washington was already considered a serious threat to go back-to-back as champions, adding Charles just makes it that much harder to knock them off their throne.
"I felt by bringing Tina 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 to go," Thibault said.
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