Elena Delle Donne says she'll be ready for 2022 WNBA season


Ideally, Elena Delle Donne hopes her lingering back issues are a thing of the past. They forced her to miss all of the 2020 season and all but three games in 2021.

In her first media availability since the end of last season, the two-time WNBA MVP said she would be ready for the 2022 season. 

"I'll be ready," Delle Donne said in early February. "I feel phenomenal. I know everybody kind of saw me coming in this season and only playing a couple games (last year) and then obviously coming back out is not a good sign. But actually, for me, I thought that was a great sign that I was on the right track."

Getting her back, and presumably at or near 100 percent, had to be a determining factor in how the Mystics approached this offseason's free agency period. Tough salary-cap decisions limited who they could bring back and what new talent could be brought into the organization. Mike Thibault's staff chose not to retain 2012 MVP Tina Charles or 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, but rather prioritize keeping rising star Myisha Hines-Allen in Washington. 

Instead of a two-MVP system, Delle Donne will be back to being the focal point of the offense and the team. The rest of 2022 free agency - and it has been an approach for the past three offseasons - was bringing in defensive studs to complement what was being done on the offensive end. 

Adding Elizabeth Williams now means there are four players on the Mystics that have been named to a WNBA All-Defensive Team in the past three years. Natasha Cloud, Alysha Clark and Ariel Atkins being the ones who join her.


"I think that for us to be competitive for a championship, we have to be a really good defensive team," Thibault said in his free agency availability. "And I think that we didn't get to see last year, without Alysha and Elena playing, what some of that looked like for us. And so, you know, let's not forget that those two players coming back to health and playing on our team is a huge step toward that."

Last season's three games offered a glimpse that Delle Donne still has the tools despite her injuries. After a mere one-game acclimation period, she was back doing Elena Delle Donne things in her second contest. 

It was a brief return to normalcy for the organization, something that hasn't been seen in Washington since Delle Donne had three herniated discs in her back during the 2019 Finals. She's also suffered a nasal fracture and a bone bruise in the the 12 months prior. Needless to say it's been a while since she hasn't been battling something.

She now feels that she is in a better position now than she was a year ago. Recently, a particular moment was a breakthrough for her being able to work without any limitations. 

"Yeah, I had a day on the court recently where I was working a lot on my off-the-block pivots and reverse pivots and counter moves, and in that moment, it was like 'Wow, I feel so good right now I feel springy. I feel like I'm able to change direction.' It just felt right," Delle Donne said. "I hadn't felt that in such a long time and also you always worry with a back... I mean, it was about an hour and a half workout. That was something that really made me feel like alright, 'this is just another great step and we'll keep going.'"

Once back, a minutes restriction will likely be used just to ensure everything remains on track for her recovery. Delle Donne doesn't even want to think about having to limit her time on the court. She's just ready to get back and fight for a championship. 

"I feel like I'm gonna be ready and back to do whatever I possibly need to do. I don't know what [Thibault] has in mind. I'm sure, there's moments where maybe it's like, hey, there's a lot of travel here. Let's get a little rest here. And that's why we built this team. It's got so much depth. We know the importance of it, but I plan to be ready and to be prepared for any minutes I need to possibly play," Delle Donne said.

"I just feel like we're in such a good situation where we're going to come to work every single day get the most we can possibly can out of each and every day and just continue to run our own race throughout the season. And I think that's going to get us to exactly where we need to be."