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WNBA title has been elusive for Mystics coach Mike Thibault, star Elena Delle Donne

WNBA title has been elusive for Mystics coach Mike Thibault, star Elena Delle Donne

Mike Thibault is used to his teams playing at this time of the year. The WNBA's all-time winningest head coach, Thibault is set to lead the Mystics into the postseason for the third straight year. It will be his 14th playoff appearance as a head coach in 17 total seasons.

Thibault has enjoyed success all over the basketball world, including during his days as an NBA assistant. He won two rings with the Lakers in the early 1980s just down the bench from Pat Riley.

But the one accomplishment that has eluded him is a WNBA championship. No one has gotten quite as close as he has without winning one.

Last year, the Mystics fell in the WNBA Finals to the Seattle Storm. That was Thibault's third Finals appearance and also his third loss. He has 336 career wins in the WNBA. Everyone else with at least 135 wins has a ring.

Thibault even has more playoff wins than any other coach. Yet still, no title.

"Well, it depends," Thibault said when asked to describe his playoff history. "I've been in the playoffs a lot and we've won. I've lost in the Finals three times. But there are a whole bunch of teams sitting at home when you get to the Finals, too."

Thibault's dichotomy of regular-season success and playoff frustration is fairly unique in the world of professional sports. He does have a peer in Don Nelson, the NBA's all-time winning coach who also does not have a title. But the winningest coaches in the NFL (Don Shula), MLB (Connie Mack) and NHL (Scotty Bowman) each won at least four championships. 

Nelson also didn't get to the Finals as often as Thibault. In fact, no NBA coach has ever reached the Finals at least three times without winning it all. 

That type of misfortune is only seen in the NFL where two coaches - Marv Levy and Dan Reeves - lost four times in the Super Bowl. If Thibault gets to the Finals and loses again this season, he could join that group.

Thibault said he looks back on the second time he was in the WNBA Finals as the one that got away. That was back in 2005 when his Connecticut Sun went 26-8 in the regular season, same as this year's Mystics, to tie the best record of his career. 

In the Finals that year, All-Star Lindsay Whalen suffered a left leg injury in Game 1 that shifted the series in favor of the Sacramento Monarchs. It took Thibault 13 years to get back to the Finals last season.

Though the Mystics lost last year, Thibault believes they are on the right track.

"We lost in the Semifinals two years ago and we lost in the Finals last year. This year, we're back in the playoffs and in the Semifinals again," he said. "You just keep knocking at the door and hopefully your experience and your skill improvement makes the difference this time around. We're a better team than we were a year ago. That doesn't guarantee anything, but we are a better team."

The Mystics are also searching for their first title as a franchise. And Elena Delle Donne, who could win her second WNBA MVP award this season, is no stranger to getting close herself. After last year, she is 0-for-2 in the WNBA Finals.

The Mystics' mantra this season has been 'run it back.' But it could also be framed as unfinished business.

"He loves [the game]," Delle Donne said of Thibault. "He is just passionate about it, so to bring him something he's never earned, since I feel like he's done literally everything else under the sun, would be really cool for this team."

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Which NBA players are sitting out NBA restart at Disney World?

Which NBA players are sitting out NBA restart at Disney World?

Between concerns over the rising number of coronavirus cases in Florida, upcoming free agency, inherent injury risks with playing after a four-month layoff and the issues Kyrie Irving has raised regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, it's understandable that some players may opt to sit out the unprecedented restart at Disney World. 

Players have until June 24 to notify their team that they aren't playing and we've already seen a few players opting to sit out. Here's a running list of NBA players who are reportedly not planning to play in Orlando later this summer.

DeAndre Jordan, Brookly Nets: Jordan announced himself that he tested positive for COVID-19 and because of it will be foregoing the restart in Orlando. 

Wilson Chandler, Brooklyn Nets: Siting the health and well-being of his family, Chandler informed the Nets he would not be participating in the season's restart, according to ESPN's Malika Andrews

Willie Cauley-Stein, Dallas Mavericks: According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Mavs' center is expecting the birth of his child in July, so he will not be going to Orlando.

Avery Bradley, Los Angeles Lakers: Bradley elected not to play in Orlando due to his six-year-old son's past struggles with respiratory illnesses. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, it was unlikely Bradley would've been medically cleared to enter the bubble with his family.  

DeMarcus Cousins, FA: Despite interest from multiple teams, Cousins reportedly plans to sit out the restart to continue his rehab from a torn ACL.

Trevor Ariza, Portland Trail Blazers: Ariza is reportedly involved in a custody case for his 12-year-old son. He decided not to participate in the NBA restart in order to be with his son during a one-month visitation period that coincided with the season schedule.

Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards: Bertans opted not to play in Florida to prevent injury before he hits free agency. Bertans is in line for a big contract and has torn his ACL twice in the past. 

John Wall, Washington Wizards: Some hoped the season's delay would mean Wall could return to the floor for a playoff run alongside Bradley Beal. Even though Wall has said he's 110% healthy, he remains focused on returning next season. 

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets: Similar to Wall, Durant was expected to miss the entire 2019-20 season with an Achilles injury and will not return despite being afforded extra time to recover. 

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets: Irving has stated he's against playing in Orlando amid the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd, but he's also still recovering from a shoulder injury and is not expected to play. 

Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz: Bogdanovic underwent season-ending wrist surgery in May and will not play in Orlando, according to ESPN

LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs: Aldridge will miss out on the season restart as well thanks to season-ending shoulder surgery, per ESPN.

Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns: Oubre suffered a meniscus injury in March and underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his right knee.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Bradley Beal believes NBA restart could help, not distract from social justice reform

Bradley Beal believes NBA restart could help, not distract from social justice reform

Though he is undecided on whether to play in Orlando, Wizards star Bradley Beal does not believe the NBA's restart will be a distraction from the nationwide movement for social justice reform. 

Beal, whose own decision is more about his health, can see both sides, including that of Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard who have suggested NBA players should sit out to raise awareness for racial injustice. But Beal views it differently, knowing the potential the players have to continue the conversation when the spotlight is on them.

"I feel like we stopped playing basketball because of COVID. We didn't stop playing because of social justice, and I feel like we can still raise that awareness. We can still bring attention to what's going on in the world by using our platform by utilizing the names on the back of the jerseys and doing it until people get pissed off and get tired of seeing it. That's the message in which I think we're trying to push because that's the only real change that we're gonna be able to generate," he said. 

"We have to utilize our platform as athletes to speak out for those who are unheard, to be vocal, to show face, to be involved. I think we're able to do both, but I get it from both sides of those who think it's a distraction. I don't think it is. But I can see how it's portrayed that way during this time."

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Beal noted how his own financial situation and established platform put him in a different spot than other players who haven't achieved those things. He can forego the prorated salary if he doesn't play and still be well off. And as a two-time All-Star, he already has a name for himself and the ability to use that platform for change.

Other, less-accomplished players, however, can't yet say the same. 

"I get it from the standpoint from a guy who doesn't make a lot of money who may need this. I get it from the guys who want to utilize this money to give back to their communities [and help their families]. I [also] look at it from the standpoint of the guys who just want to focus on straight social justice," Beal said.

RELATED: BEAL UNDECIDED ON PLAYING IN RESTART

Beal also said he "fully" understands the decision made by Mystics guard Natasha Cloud to sit out. Cloud and Beal are friends and have worked together to write statements and organize events between their teams for social justice awareness. The Wizards and Mystics marched together on Juneteenth last month and before they started walking, Beal and Cloud addressed the crowd.

Cloud has opted out of the 2020 WNBA season due to focus on social justice reform.

"It's a tough time we're in," he said.

Beal indicated that whether he plays or not, he will be active in helping his fellow NBA players and the league continue to get the message out. He mentioned both Washington, D.C. and his hometown of St. Louis, MO, with plans to interact with local officials and lawmakers to express his beliefs on the matter.

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