1. Let’s assume the Mystics get in the playoffs for 2013 and that Atlanta and Chicago get the top two seeds. Which matchup is more favorable and why? How far can this team go?
Zack: I think Chicago is the better team, but I spent most of the season thinking that’s who the Mystics want to see. They’ve just done so well against the Sky, whereas Atlanta has really gone on some big runs against them. The Dream are going to steal the ball and score in transition and that can really get the crowd going.
I think the Mystics are similar in that they feed off emotion like that and have a lot of great role players, but it’s almost like the Dream are always just a step ahead. Chicago is so scary though when you talk about having to go against both Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne as opposed to just Angel McCoughtry. So assuming Atlanta gets the two seed, I think the Mystics should be content if they get the three because at some point you have to imagine their luck will run out against the Sky. Also, I wouldn’t put it past the Fever to beat the Sky and then the Mystics could host the Eastern Conference Finals. I wouldn’t pick Washington to win a series against either the Sky or the Dream, but as we’ve talked about throughout the year, they are capable of beating anybody. I think the two wins against the Lynx meant something – I don’t think it was just luck. I also know Mike Thibault is very determined to win a playoff series because the Mystics haven’t done that since 2002. But like I said, I wouldn’t bet against the talent of Chicago or Atlanta.
Albert: At this point of the season, I think the Mystics will make the playoffs. With the assumption that Chicago and Atlanta will take the top two seeds, I think Chicago provides the better matchup because the Mystics have played the Sky competitively in their matchups this season thus far. Atlanta has been able to take advantage of DC’s turnovers and score easily and that’s not something that they want to face if they can help it.
With the Mystics having defeated every Eastern Conference team at least once, they have a shot to beat anyone any day. However, they are also not a .500 team for a reason, and it’s unlikely that they’re in the Eastern Conference Finals.
2. How do the Mystics avoid the “Treadmill of Mediocrity” in 2014? Could you see Ivory Latta, Crystal Langhorne, Matee Ajavon, and Monique Currie all remain here and be part of a long term core?
Zack: Albert, I think they need a superstar – someone in the top 10 or top 5 in the MVP race. Even a weaker team like New York has Cappie Pondexter. I think if the Mystics had someone of that talent level to go with their role players they would be great. Latta and Langhorne are great players and it would be awesome if one of them could get to that level. Ivory has had moments this year where she put the team on her back, but nine teams have a leading scorer who averages 15.6 points or more. Latta averages just 13.7. And the other two teams are San Antonio and Seattle who are both missing their top two players.
Albert: They need to acquire a superstar like you said Zack. But besides getting a high draft pick, unless there is a superstar who is either an unrestricted free agent and wants to play in DC, or if a superstar is unhappy where she is and demands a trade here, it’s not going to happen.
I believe Coach Thibault has gotten the most out of this team, and he must seriously consider changing the veteran core players, preferably for younger players and/or draft picks. The one veteran core player who I believe needs to be kept if they can help it is Ivory Latta.
3. I think we’re in agreement that Coach Thibault is a great coach. But do you think he’s a good GM since he now has the final decision making authority on all basketball moves?
Zack: I think he has been a great GM. He was right to think Ivory was on her way to stardom and Kia Vaughn has done a pretty good job as well. And, while the Mystics are still lacking superstar talent at the top of their roster, I like that Thibault had faith in the camaraderie of Langhorne, Currie and Ajavon. Also, he would have taken Tierra Ruffin-Pratt in the draft if the Mystics had a third round pick, while every other WNBA team passed on her. The only player taken after the Mystics’ last pick (Emma Meesseman, 19th overall) who has had a better season than Ruffin-Pratt is Angel Goodrich (29th overall to Tulsa).
Albert: Coach Thibault deserves my Coach of the Year vote, and his GM’ing moves have made sense so I do think he is a good GM overall. However, I don’t think that he is as good of a GM as he is a coach.
Sometimes a GM may not be doing a good job because of non-moves. You say that his keeping of Ajavon/Currie/Langhorne was a good thing. I maintain my stance that it was not in the team’s best interest, in particular for Ajavon and Currie given who they ultimately drafted in the first round. The drafting of Tayler Hill, who based on her college years was at her best as a major offensive option with the ball in her hands causes a conflict between her, Ajavon, and Currie, and then you have Latta as well who will have the ball in her hands, and for whatever reason, Hill is the one who’s taken a back seat.
4. What is the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season so far?
Zack: It’s been the inability to win consistently. The Mystics were one of the most talked about teams early in the season and Ivory was in the MVP discussion. But both Latta and Langhorne have had too many games in single figures scoring, hence the low scoring averages for both compared to other teams’ stars. But the entire team has been inconsistent as well and the Mystics have had losing streaks of four and five to go with two three-game winning streaks.
Albert: While I agree that not winning games consistently is a disappointment, I will have to say that Tayler Hill’s performance is right up there. While I certainly hope that she’s back for 2014 because she’s the only lottery pick to be shown for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, it’s not like she has done much to show why she can be a core player, even if it is partly because Ajavon and Currie weren’t dealt to other teams before she came here.
(NOTE – Hill in her last three games has played at least 15 minutes each, and scored in double figures for each of her last two games. So it’s possible that she’s finally starting to come around now. But in terms of trying to make the All-Rookie team, it’s too little, too late. And the damage has been done for many fans, some of whom believe that Kelsey Bone is the better choice at #4. I unfortunately have to concede that she could have been a better impact player here, but having Kia Vaughn traded here for the #7 pick basically made such an option not feasible considering the number of players who are posts.
But here’s another way to look at Hill being on the Mystics. If she wasn’t drafted to this team and had Thibault drafted Kelsey Bone or the local favorite Tianna Hawkins at #4, would Matee Ajavon and Monique Currie have played with as much urgency as the have for the most part this season? Hill’s drafting certainly was a threat to their job security, in particular Ajavon’s, even if she’s not starting right now. And if Hawkins in particular were on this team, would that have potentially lit a fire for Crystal Langhorne to play at her 2010 level? To me, I don’t see Hawkins being a threat to Lang like Hill is to Ajavon and to some extent, Currie, because in Currie’s case, she’s the only true small forward on the Mystics.)
5. What is the best way for getting a superstar who is not past her prime to play for the Mystics?
Zack: Like I said, I like camaraderie of the current core. Crystal played at Maryland and Monique Currie is from D.C. so fans would hate to see that core broken up. But I guess I’d rather see the team get better by trade than by tanking. And Mike Thibault said after the most recent loss that he doesn’t want to be a losing team for a long time in order to get good. (see video at the 1 minute mark)
Albert: To me, “the easiest way” is to build through the draft, and I’ll just have Ted Leonsis say it for me (the first few minutes get the point across) albeit for the Wizards at an event that I missed while I was on vacation:
Sometimes you have to be real bad before being real good. I sympathize with Coach Thibault that he doesn’t want to be bad for a long time before being real good, but if a team doesn’t accumulate a number of lottery picks and homegrown drafted talent, it’s going to be really hard to win any titles. Coaching alone isn’t enough and many GM’s and HC’s in the same body fall too much in love with their coaching and desire to win games now rather than GM’ing for the long term.
The issue however is that this season has certainly been a pleasant surprise even to me because the Mystics have played better than most people expected. Given that the playoffs are more likely happening this year than not for the Mystics, while I still believe that blowing up the 2012 core players must be considered, it’s going to be a lot harder to do it now without some major fan backlash. But given that Mike Thibault helped pave the way to trade away Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas in their primes while he was in Connecticut, there should be no reason as to why he won’t do a similar deal involving Mystics players this offseason if he thinks that such a move will help the team.
If the Mystics can advance to the Eastern Conference Finals this year or even if they at least play well in the first round of the playoffs, it could give prospective restricted and unrestricted free agents including superstars a reason why DC can be a destination where their talents can be put to good use. If their play this year can convince a superstar free agent or any superstar player to come here or demand a trade here, 2014 could be a very highly anticipated year for sure in the nation’s capital.