All good things must come to an end.
Salary caps ensure that adage rings true for championship teams. Each year title-winning teams are forced to part ways with the very players that put them on top of the sports world.
The Washington Nationals are a team that quickly faced that reality this year. On the day of their World Series championship parade, they were forced to make several contract decisions on stars that had just won them their first pennant. Less than a week after winning it all, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon were free agents and available for any team to sign.
No title-touting team is immune. But just as tenacious the Washington Mystics were on their warpath to a WNBA championship, so too is their ability to bring everyone for another crack at the title in 2020.
There is the space for the Mystics to bring back each member of their championship team.
Last season Washington had one of the deepest teams in the WNBA. So deep that Emma Meesseman, the WNBA Finals MVP, primarily came off the bench when the squad was fully healthy. Depth extended past Meesseman too. Several of the team’s back-up players could easily be starters elsewhere in the league.
There were 12 players on the championship roster, eight are already under contract to return: Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders, Ariel Atkins, Aerial Powers, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Myisha Hines-Allen and Kiara Leslie.
Assuming the salary cap goes up the same amount it did from 2018 to 2019, the cap will be roughly $1,014,900 in 2020. However, the WNBA and the players’ association are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. A new deal could completely flip the cap figures – and maximum contracts – as one of the bigger issues discussed is player pay. The rest of this post could be a moot point.
But going off the $1,014,900 figure and the contract amounts on Spotrac.com combined with Tianna Hawkins’ and Powers' extensions, Washington has roughly $582,072 of their 2020 cap space remaining. Educated guesses would assume that there could be even more room to work with as the CBA gets developed. Bigger player salaries would mean bigger salary caps. Only four or five spots are remaining as rosters are required to have a minimum of 11 players, a maximum of 12.
Four members of the 2019 squad are set to enter free agency. This includes Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver and Meesseman. All three more than deserving of max contracts.
Keep in mind that the WNBA’s free agency is less robust than the other major sports leagues in the country. Partly this is due to the max contract and salary cap system in place. In the NBA, at most teams could fit four maximum contract players – there are also supermax contracts that would fit less. Eight maximum contract players could fit on a WNBA roster to slide under the cap.
Of the three (Delle Donne, Toliver, Meesseman) it is difficult to imagine any of them playing anywhere else in the league.
Delle Donne finally won her elusive championship this year. She came to the Mystics from the Chicago Sky back in 2017 to be close to her family in Delaware. During the WNBA Finals this season she still stressed the importance of her proximity to her family. There is no reason to suggest that will change this offseason.
Toliver is an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. Both basketball teams are owned under the same company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment. She could make the full jump into the coaching ranks after this season if she chose, but this season she displayed that there is a lot in her tank.
Meesseman took a year off in 2018 and looks better than ever. Washington is the only WNBA franchise she has ever played for.
A combination of the three returning is not guaranteed but space is there. Three max contracts, at the estimated at $119,500 by the previous CBA, fit the salary constraints.
That even leaves $63,572 for the final spot on the roster. A more than capable figure to account for the remaining members of the 2019 championship team in Kim Mestdagh.
Head coach Mike Thibault, who is also the general manager, constructed the roster brilliantly to bring together the first championship for the franchise. Basically, everyone stayed from the runner-up team in 2018. Roster constraints won’t be the issue. Rather, convincing everyone to ‘Run it back’ for a second time will be the question.
Throughout the 2019 season, the Mystics defied all standards set by previous WNBA teams. They have a chance to defy another standard set by championship teams this offseason.
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