After their 2020 season was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Mystics had high hopes for a bounce back campaign this summer. With the expected returns of Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud, as well as free agent signing Alysha Clark, the team looked primed to compete for the title yet again.
Instead, following a 93-75 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday night, the Mystics are 10-17 and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today. They're only percentage points behind the New York Liberty for the eighth and final playoff spot, so they could still sneak into the postseason, but still, it's a far cry from what they were expecting.
The main reason they haven't been able to get anything going this season is injuries. In his pregame media conference on Saturday, coach Mike Thibault vented about the unlucky streak the Mystics have been on over the past few months.
"[The injury situation is] the worst in 50 years of coaching," Thibault said. "This has been the worst I've ever been through. It's frustrating, and it's hard for everyone, not just me."
While injuries are always an issue for every team to some extent, the Mystics' situation has been outrageous. It started before play even began, when Clark suffered a foot injury while playing overseas in France and underwent season-ending surgery. Then, Delle Donne needed another back surgery -- her second since 2019 -- and missed the team's first 21 games. While she has since returned to the court, she's only played in three of six games since her comeback.
In truth, losing a key free agent signing for the season and a former MVP for the majority of it would be bad enough. (That doesn't even take into account that Emma Meesseman stayed overseas this season.) That was just the start for the Mystics. They were already shorthanded on opening night, and it only got progressively worse as the season went along.
Cloud, Charles and Myisha Hines-Allen have all missed at least five games. Among the 15 players to suit up for the Mystics, only Ariel Atkins and Theresa Plaisance have played in all 27 games. At one point, things got so bad that they were only dressing six players, as if they were a youth team that didn't know who was showing up from game to game.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all is that once Delle Donne came back after the Olympic break, it seemed they would finally get back on track. While they lost to the Seattle Storm in EDD's return, they finally had their best starting five out on the floor and were just outside of playoff position. Even with everything that had gone wrong, it felt like if they could just get into the playoffs, they had the high-end talent to perhaps make some noise after all.
Then Charles got hurt, Hines-Allen got sick and Delle Donne hasn't been able to play every game. Even now, that one game against the Storm is still the only time their best five has been out there. While the Mystics still could back their way into the playoffs, they'd then have to win two single-elimination games on the road just to make the semi-finals.
Sometimes, as the Mystics are finding out in cruel fashion, it's just not your year.