Mystics

WNBA teams set to make tough decisions on roster cuts

WNBA teams set to make tough decisions on roster cuts

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb knew that he and first-year coach Walt Hopkins would have to make some tough decisions on the team's roster this year.

He just didn't think they'd have to do it so quickly and without seeing players compete in training camp. The WNBA and the players' union decided that teams would have to get their rosters under the salary cap by Tuesday so that players could start getting paid on June 1.

It's left many teams with tough decisions on who they will cut and little time to figure it out.

"It is the worst part of this job," Kolb said in a phone interview. "These are dreams that are suddenly altered and you're a large part of that. These are human beings, not just basketball players."

Connecticut Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller had set up his training camp roster so a few position battles would determine the final spots on the team. Now he'll have to make choices a different way.

"Ultimately we have to decide, because we can't do it all together, what skill set strength of theirs makes most sense to round out our roster," Miller said.

Teams usually have to cut their rosters to get under the salary cap before the regular season begins, which would have been on May 14. The WNBA postponed the start of the season in early April because of the coronavirus pandemic and is still focusing on a handful of scenarios that would allow it to play this year.

Teams typically would be able to evaluate players by their on-the-court actions. Now it's more based on how quickly they pick things up on Zoom conference calls or how well they understand plays online.

"The league office didn't foresee a pandemic," Kolb said in a phone interview. "They are doing the best they can do. It doesn't take away from how difficult this was for us. We wish we could keep everybody or have some contingencies in place."

The Liberty have six rookies on the roster, including No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu. They also have five international players, which has made life a little more difficult for Kolb and Hopkins than for some other teams because of the logistics involving travel.

"It's definitely impacting us the most," he said. "We have the most international players and with so much uncertainty and lack of answers at the moment, it puts us in a position to have to make decisions."

Kolb said he's been in constant contact with the international players, who are in China, Sweden, Australia, France and Canada.

"We're taking everything into consideration including things we never anticipated before like long flights," he said. "Now it's a big deal. How do they feel about that? Is our country going to allow these players into the United States? There's still so many unknowns."

Kolb said the team has been working with the league and its own immigration lawyers to try to figure things out for the foreign players. There is a chance one or more of the Liberty's international players could decide she wants to stay abroad. The team could then suspend her for the season, which would open up another roster spot.

While players who are cut won't get paid, they will be offered health insurance until the end of June. There also is a chance that being let go won't mean the end of their WNBA dreams.

Miller noted that the Sun cut Natisha Hiedeman in training camp last year and she came back to Connecticut when Layshia Clarendon got hurt late in the season. Hiedeman wound up playing in the semifinals and WNBA Finals.

"You try to lead with compassion and empathy," Miller said. "I don't know any other way to lead in this decision with them. These are the cards that we're all dealt and it doesn't mean it's fair. I'll them the story about Natisha and not to let a temporary set back define you."

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Natasha Cloud rips WNBA's decision to decline Elena Delle Donne's opt-out request

Natasha Cloud rips WNBA's decision to decline Elena Delle Donne's opt-out request

Surprising news broke Monday evening when Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne's request to opt-out of the 2020 WNBA season was declined. The two-time WNBA MVP suffers from Lyme disease, but her condition was not on the CDC's list of underlying conditions that puts someone at additional risk for COVID-19. 

Delle Donne's teammate, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, was also stunned by the league's decision. On Monday evening, Cloud posted an Instagram story in support of Delle Donne, asking the WNBA: "how do you deny someone with Lyme disease?"

Cloud doubled-down on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to express her dismay of the WNBA's decision.

"It’s bull----," Cloud wrote. "@WNBA either play or risk her life...what do we stand for? Cause apparently it’s not the players."

If the league doesn't reverse its ruling, Delle Donne must play the 2020 season to receive her full salary. In her statement Monday, she said she wants to play but her personal physician advises against it.

"I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me," Delle Donne said. "My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I'm at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19."

Cloud, who had a career season for Washington last year, has already decided to opt-out of the 2020 season in order to continue her commitment to raising awareness of social justice issues and the fight for racial equality. The guard signed an endorsement deal with Converse earlier this offseason, and the brand will pay her entire salary this season.

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Mystics face tough first week of new WNBA schedule in bid to defend championship

Mystics face tough first week of new WNBA schedule in bid to defend championship

Right out of the gate of the 2020 season, the Washington Mystics will face a challenging schedule to begin their repeat campaign. 

The WNBA announced the team's docket for the shortened 22-game season on Monday, which features two head-to-head matchups with each team in the league and eight nationally televised contests. 

Three of the Mystics' five games will be against teams that have true championship aspirations. The team will follow up its season opener (July 25, 5:00 p.m. ET) against the Indiana Fever, with back-to-back WNBA Finals rematches against the Connecticut Sun on July 28 and the Seattle Storm on July 30. 

Even though Connecticut is without some key figures from last year's team, they are still a threat after adding DeWanna Bonner in the offseason. Seattle, of course, has two of the best players to ever play in the W in Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird returning. 

RELATED: DELLE DONNE REPORTEDLY DENIED MEDICAL OPT-OUT

Less than a week later, the Mystics will go face-to-face with the Las Vegas Aces. In what is beginning to turn into a continuous rivalry between Vegas and DC, the two will surely have that contest circled. However, the two biggest characters, Liz Cambage and Natasha Cloud, both opted-out of the season. 

That is why these opening games will be a challenge for Washington. The team is presumably going to be without four of their five starters from last season, assuming Elena Delle Donne decides not to play and forgo her salary. 

There are four 'new' players at camp this season including Kiara Leslie (who missed her entire first season due to an injury), Essence Carson, Leilani Mitchell and Alaina Coates. 

With training camp also condensed, getting the new players up to speed and ready for a new role will be important. It might take a while before a new, open offense that isn't centered around Delle Donne takes shape. Head coach Mike Thibault says that the team will be able to spread out their offense more and not center around Emma Meesseman or a central piece. Still, that will take time to develop especially with Mitchell being the team's new point guard.

But while the opening couple of games will be a tall task, that means the team comes together true to form later in the year and have a lighter schedule. 

"It's hard to assess I mean, you know, you haven't seen anybody else play," head coach Mike Thibault said. "I haven't really worried about the schedule, other than looking at who our first couple games are I think it'll be fun for people to see a national TV game against Seattle in that first week, I don't know if that will be fun for us but we'll see. But you know, I think it just, it's hard to judge other teams when you don't even know who everybody's got right now."

No teams will have back-to-backs in the schedule that runs until Sept. 12. 

After Washington's first four contests, they'll have three-off days before a stretch of six games in 11 days. That series of games will likely be a measuring stick of where the team stands. Both Aces contests are in that stretch, along with two games against non-playoff teams from a year ago. 

The schedule will bode well for the Mystics to make a mid-to-late half of the season push. It's just a matter of if can they come together early enough that the push puts them in a favorable spot for the playoffs. 

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