For the Washington Mystics and their prized offseason acquisition Elena Delle Donne, it’s WNBA Finals or bust, which could be a problem.
This season, the Washington Mystics are celebrating 20 years of existence as a WNBA franchise. Unfortunately for most of those 20 years the team has been incredibly bad or solidly mediocre, qualifying for the postseason just nine times and only making it as far as Eastern Conference Finals once.
After finishing the 2016 season with a 13-21 record not making the playoffs yet again, head coach and General Manager Mike Thibault had enough. He told the front office that things had to change with this team and that it had to happen now.
The result was the blockbuster deal that sent Kahleah Copper, Stefanie Dolson and the No. 2 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft to the Chicago Sky in exchange for WNBA superstar forward/guard Elena Delle Donne.
In addition, the Mystics went all out in free agency, signing guard Kristi Toliver to complement returning players Ivory Latta, Tayler Hill, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Natasha Cloud. And during the WNBA Draft, the Mystics added Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, a solid outside shooter who only makes the team more of a threat from beyond the arc.
So with all that talent signed and money spent, the expectations on the Washington Mystics going into the 2017 season are huge.
How huge? WNBA Finals or bust huge.
Just making the playoffs won’t be enough. Just winning the Conference Finals won’t be enough. Just making it to the WNBA Finals won’t be enough.
In order for what the Mystics did this offseason to be seen as worth what they gave up, to both their fans and the rest of the league, the Mystics have to win the WNBA Championship.
Nothing else will do.
Those are some pretty big expectations to put on the shoulders of Toliver and to a greater extent, Delle Donne.
The question of whether Delle Donne can lead Washington to the promised land of a championship will entirely depend on how long it takes the rebuilt roster to adapt to playing with each other. Chemistry is a highly underrated concept in sports anymore but plays a huge roll in the success of failure of a team’s aspirations.
Just throwing a bunch of high profile players together doesn’t guarantee that a team will win it all. LeBron James had to learn that the hard way, once with the Miami Heat and then again with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It can take time for a roster to learn how to operate together with efficiency and pick up on each others strength and weaknesses. Those are the kinds of small things that can take a team from good to great to champions.
Of course, high expectations can also cause a team to underperform and wilt under the pressure. Sports is littered with teams that had everything going for them in terms of talent but just couldn’t put it all together at the right time. They let the press and what everyone was saying about them get into their head and the result was a season of disappointment and recriminations.
Will that be the Washington Mystics? It’s tough to say, but it shouldn’t take long for everyone to see whether going out and getting a star like Delle Donne no matter the cost was the right thing to do.
The Mystics open training camp on April 23 and then open the season at home against Kelsey Plum and the San Antonio Stars.