The 2021 WNBA season won't begin until May 14, but while games are still about a month away, training camps are right around the corner. Players are already arriving in home markets, and teams will be able to start practicing together on April 25, when camps open.
Unfortunately for the Washington Mystics, they are not going to be at full strength when they hit the court together for the first time. Not only is key free agent signing Alysha Clark out for the season after suffering a foot injury overseas, but star forward Elena Delle Donne may not be ready either.
The former MVP underwent surgery on her back in December and her status for the start of training camp is still up in the air. At this point, Delle Donne's goal is to be ready for the team's season opener against her old team, the Chicago Sky, on May 15. Via Just Women's Sports:
Elena Delle Donne was driving in her car in September when a familiar, unwelcome sensation gave her pause. Pain shot down her leg, radiating and taking her back to eight months earlier, when she'd undergone surgery because a disc in her back was pushing on a nerve.
She tried to continue with her physical therapy after the car incident, but the herniation was back and bigger this time.
"I knew the pain from before," Delle Donne said over Zoom from her home workshop. "I was just hoping, along with the rest of my team, that through therapy I could get rid of it. But unfortunately it wouldn't go away, and there are some things you can't fix through rest, therapy and strengthening. I needed to go back for surgery."
This was the second back surgery for Delle Donne in the span of a year. The first came in January of 2020, following the conclusion of the 2019 season when she underwent a procedure to fix multiple herniated discs. She had played through those injuries in the 2019 WNBA Finals, leading the Mystics to their first title in franchise history.
That series against the Connecticut Sun is actually the last time we've seen her in action, as Delle Donne sat out the 2020 season due to health concerns related to COVID-19. While it was unfortunate to miss out on a season from one of the league's best players, the silver lining was that all the extra time off would allow Delle Donne to get fully healthy and come back in peak form for 2021.
That will no longer be the case. Even if she is able to suit up for the Mystics' first game, it's hard to imagine she'll be at her best without a normal offseason and training camp. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that she won't have played a game for 19 months.
Delle Donne is so skilled that when she does get healthy and back into game shape there's little reason to doubt she'll reclaim her place among the league's best players. But after two back surgeries and nearly two years away from the game, it might take some time for her to get there.