Another training camp, another injury update for Elena Delle Donne. This time around, the news is more positive for the Washington Mystics star, who has been dealing with major back issues for nearly three years. Still, she is not yet all the way back and will have to be managed through the season.
On Monday, Delle Donne and Mystics head coach Mike Thibault spoke to reporters about her status. Delle Donne spent the winter working with the Mystics' medical staff to improve everything she does physically, from how she runs all the way down to the most basic motions like getting out of bed.
Coming into camp, Delle Donne feels "so much better" and has a greater appreciation for the game than ever before.
"This has definitely been the toughest two years of my career," Delle Donne said. "To be able to have another chance at it and know the amount of time and work I've put into it is exciting that I can finally be back out there competing alongside my teammates. I'm excited. It's a newfound me, a newfound joy of the game, knowing that this game was nearly taken from me and could be at any point."
Since winning MVP and playing through multiple herniated discs in her back to lead the Mystics to their first championship in franchise history in 2019, Delle Donne has played just three WNBA games.
She underwent back surgery following the 2019 Finals, then sat out of the 2020 season in the bubble due to health concerns regarding COVID-19. While preparing for the 2021 season she felt more nerve pain and needed a second back surgery. The recovery took longer than expected, and she didn't make her debut last season until late August. Then, after three games she shut things down again.
Delle Donne's absence was the most notable of an unfortunate injury-filled season for the Mystics last summer. At one point in June, they showed up to a game against the Connecticut Sun with only six healthy and available players. As a result, they were a far cry from the contender they hoped to be. They would like to return to the upper echelon of the league this season, but they'll need a healthy Delle Donne to get there.
"We still have a lot to manage as we get into the season with those who have been hurt, but I think we have a good plan in place," Thibault said. "The main thing with that is to be at our best when we need to be at our best. And so we're not going to have everybody 100 percent all the time, and we know that. We know that we're going to have to manage minutes in practices right now and we're going to have to take our time."
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The Mystics are taking an extra cautious approach to start. Delle Donne is still not a full participant in practice -- doing about 60 percent, per Thibault -- and is unlikely to play in the team's first preseason game on Sunday against the Atlanta Dream. Furthermore, the team may take opportunities to rest Delle Donne strategically throughout the season. To that point, it's worth noting that this regular season will be condensed due to the FIBA Women's World Cup in September, and the Mystics open with three games in five days.
As of now, things are a work in progress for Delle Donne. That is somewhat concerning coming off another full offseason, but it's also not the worst news considering where she's been at various points in the past few years. At her best she's one of the league's all-time talents and a perennial MVP candidate; hopefully, she can get back on the court and return to that level soon.