After years of questions surrounding the availability of Elena Delle Donne entering Washington Mystics training camp, the two-time MVP wasted no time setting the record straight on media day.
"I don't plan to miss any games," she said.
It's a proclamation and statement that has been a long time coming for both the Mystics organization and its fans. One that has been teased at numerous points throughout the offseason by her and the front office. This, though, was definitive and how everyone involved expects the season to play out.
"I mean, that's the plan," head coach Eric Thibault said at Tuesday's practice. "There's no restrictions. We're not going through the schedule like we did last year and picking games where she wasn't gonna play. So I feel like- I don't like talking about it, to be honest with you. I mean, knock on every piece of wood I can, but no we're not going in with any restrictions"
The two-time league MVP has played just 28 games since the Mystics won the title in 2019. That's just 31% of all scheduled contests with 25 of them coming last year. When she played in 2022, Washington had a winning percentage that was tied for the league's best. When she didn't, they were 4-7.
Of course, all of those games were missed after she underwent multiple back surgeries from the end of the 2019 season and leading up to the 2021 season. She herniated two discs in her back during the 2019 Finals and ever since it has been a long road to recovery to get back to playing, much less performing at an Elena Delle Donne-esque level.
Signs are pointing to her getting back to that point in her game. A couple of months ago she said that this was the "greatest offseason ever" now that she was back to training and not rehabbing. All offseason she was in the gym and putting in work.
"So the offseason went great," Delle Donne said on media day. "It was my first offseason in a really long time where I wasn't rehabbing and I was actually able to train. I'm by far the strongest I've ever been even weight-wise when I'm lifting in the weight room. I didn't even think that would happen. So it's been a great offseason. I feel like I've been able to really improve on some things and continue on the path that I was on."
The results are showing. Today was the first day on the court for training camp. In the limited 14 minutes of real-time the media was allowed to see, she scored three buckets and recorded an assist. No misses and it all happened while the coaching staff had to rotate in 14 players to just five spots.
Not only is she back to playing shape, but she's also entering 2023 at a high point.
"I feel like she's finally found a rhythm in kind of everything that she has going on," Ariel Atkins told NBC Sports Washington. "Finally feels 100%, finally feels healthy. I mean, I feel how she feels. She knows her body. So if she tells me she's ready to go, she's ready to go."
Removing the absences from last year, the WNBA will finally get to see how good this Mystics team post-title. In many regards, some would say this is the best opportunity for Washington to showcase their full capabilities since that championship because Delle Donne is now contributing to the capabilities everyone knows she can.
As to how good can Delle Donne become this season? That won't be seen until the offseason. But if it's an improvement on last year - which everyone is expecting it to be - that should be a wake-up call to every team in the league.
"Just mentally, it's so big to be able to put some of that behind me and build and have the excitement and knowledge that I'm good to go," Delle Donne told NBC Sports Washington's Wes Hall. "Like, there's been a few seasons where I wasn't sure if it would be my last because my body was just not there. And when you go through back surgery, when you go through all the things I was dealing with, with my back, sometimes things just don't recover. But I am grateful for all the people that have helped me along the way. I've got my team in place that helps me, and I think that's why it was such a great offseason."