For years for the Washington Mystics have had their eyes on Seattle's Alysha Clark. Whether through free agency or through a trade, head coach and general manager Mike Thibault were interested in acquiring the 5'11 forward.
Finally, in the 2021 free agency class - it happened. The Mystics were able to secure Clark, pulling her away from the defending champion Storm and add to her to an already impressive lineup. She signed a reported two-year, $366,000 deal to switch coasts and join a team looking to return to a championship-level.
Signing Clark, the 11th ranked free agent according to ESPN, wasn't a part of this year's free agency plan for the Mystics, but they took advantage when they had the opportunity.
"Free agency takes interesting turns sometimes and when it all started I had no idea that Alysha would actually end up being available," Mike Thibault said in Clark's introductory press conference on Monday. "And so, when we found that out then it was kind of a, as best I could, a quick courtship."
Clark comes to the District straight off of helping Seattle win two championships in a three-year span. All through those she's been a starter and developed her game to new heights. Clark was named to an All-Defensive Team the past two seasons and statistically, had the best year of her career a year ago.
Thibault can't quite recall how long he's been drawn to Clark's talents. Her game is similar to conducive to the playing style that he employs: a fierce defender on one end and can be a multi-dimensional offensive weapon on the other. It at least goes back to the last time she was a free agent in 2016. There was no real inclination that she was going to leave the Pacific Northwest, though, so there wasn't much of a push as she eventually re-signed with the Storm.
Since then, he's attempted a trade to bring Clark to D.C., which Thibault remarked was "smart" that Seattle didn't accept, all the while Clark became a key figure on a championship squad.
"The opportunity finally came when she became a free agent," Thibault said. "Alysha just, to me, jumped out as a perfect fit for this team. And she plays how I value playing and I just think that goes a long way with your teammates."
This really was the first time Clark considers to have gone through a true free agency period. Although she was drafted by the San Antonio Silver Stars (now the Las Vegas Aces), Clark has only played WNBA basketball for the Storm. A nine-year veteran, the 33-year-old has re-signed continuously with Seattle.
Just not this year.
"This is the first time I've been actually a part of free agency where teams are interested," Clark said in her press conference. "And so I really wanted to just give respect to the process of really listening and talking with other teams and hearing what they had to say. And just really sit back and ask myself, what it is that I want for myself and what I want for my, my future and my career, and then what do I want after basketball."
The desire to bring Clark in, and the want for her by Washington, was felt by the forward. A gut feeling is what ultimately swayed her away from the franchise she's called home for nearly a decade. Immediately, she felt like the Mystics organization was a family, similar to what she experienced in Seattle. From speaking to Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud in the recruitment process to how she saw the team come together in the bubble, Clark wanted to be a part of it.
"I trust my gut on a lot of things and when something sits right in my gut I know it's the right move and it wasn't easy by any means. Change is really hard for me but to be walking into this team in this organization is something that I'm really excited about at this stage in my career," Clark said.
"It was the same kind of family feel that I've been used to these last nine years and that, for me, is something that I'm not willing to compromise on. And so, to be able to have that feeling with everyone, through the DC organization was just, again, that's one of the reasons why I was like this feels right because it just, it felt like a family from the first time we all spoke and that was really special to me."
Clark may have not been part of the Mystics' original free agency plans. The plan was to bring everyone back that they could in free agency from last season and, with the stars all returning from a year off, make another run at a title.
Getting to that point this season will heavily involve Clark's play. Bringing her on likely improved their odds to get to the WNBA Finals once again than the original plan did.
Thibault finally got Clark, now can she just live up to what he saw in her years ago.
"Alysha Clark has the ability on the defensive end to take on a matchup like she referred to and literally, raise hell with that matchup," Thibault said.
"This is an exciting day for the Washington Mystics."