Missing the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2016 this past year, one of the biggest issues plaguing the Washington Mystics was keeping their top-tier talent on the floor. We're months away from the 2022 season but it appears it may be deja vu. Already head coach Mike Thibault has doubts on Emma Meesseman playing for Washington.
"I don't know what her mindset is. We've texted a little bit but I'm going to have a heart-to-heart conversation with her as we get into the free agency period when we can talk to her. I'm not probably, particularly optimistic about that. I don't know. But I know her allegiances in the years like this has always been to her national team as they've gotten better," Thibault told reporters after the WNBA Lottery.
The WNBA Finals 2019 MVP did not play during the entirety of the 2021 WNBA season due to international coronavirus protocols and taking personal time following play in the European Championships and the Olympics for Team Belgium. Throughout her career, international obligations have often conflicted with the WNBA schedule.
In 2022, it will be the FIBA World Cup that is in contrast to the WNBA season. The last time this happened in 2018, Meesseman did not play for the Mystics.
"If everybody remembers back to 2018 with the World Cup, her national team put her in the position of saying 'hey, you can go play in the regular season but you got to leave before the playoffs because we want to do all of our tour,'" Thibault said. "If we're in that same boat again, I don't know that she will play. If she feels differently and she can say to her national team, 'hey, I'll show up like the other WNBA American players do and when we're done playing I'll show up,' but it doesn't work for somebody to play in the regular season and not in the playoffs."
This is an issue in the WNBA because of the difference in pay that is not seen for their NBA counterparts. Without large salaries, players have to make commitments outside of just one league. In 2020, Meesseman signed a one-year deal for the maximum amount of $215,000 in the WNBA. The minimum salary in the NBA is $925,258.
On top of playing overseas - where salaries can rival that of the WNBA - sometimes those commitments require players to miss large segments of a season. Many players left before the Olympic break early to get to their national camps for practices in 2021. In particular for Meesseman, she's always made it clear her priority and main dedication is to the Belgian Cats.
There's still plenty of time before the start of the 2022 campaign for Meesseman to make her decision. Is not playing last season a factor? Will playing with a, presumably, healthy Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark sway her thinking? There's also a new No. 1 draft pick that will allow the Mystics to further stockpile assets for a championship run.
Additionally, Team Belgium is in a far different spot than it was four years ago. 2018 was their first time qualifying for the World Cup. Since then, they've earned their first bid to the Olympics in 2021 and are the sixth-ranked team in FIBA as of this writing.
Just because Thibault wouldn't want a player for the regular season and then leave for the postseason doesn't mean other teams won't be willing to roster her with that caveat. Meesseman is a free agent (and was for 2021 but never signed). The Mystics might not be willing to work under those circumstances, another franchise, though, could offer her another max deal.
And if she doesn't play altogether, 2022 would mark the third time in the past five seasons that Meesseman elected not to play in Washington.