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USATSI

After falling short two seasons ago in the WNBA Finals, the Washington Mystics finally captured the franchise's first-ever championship when they defeated the Connecticut Sun in a thrilling five-game series. Even after winning it all, the Mystics used the offseason to get even better by pulling off a blockbuster trade that landed them former league MVP and seven-time All-Star Tina Charles. Everything was pointing toward the Mystics repeating as champions, or at the very least being the favorite. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing protests against police brutality across the country, significantly altered those plans.

As the WNBA announced its plan to play in a central location at the IMG Academy in Florida, players across the league began to opt-out. Some decided they would rather use this season to focus on social justice issues, while others expressed health and safety concerns over playing during a global pandemic. For the Mystics, they've had three players opt out of the season so far: Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, and could potentially be without Elena Delle Donne too if she ultimately decides she doesn't want to risk her health to play this season. This unprecedented scenario has put Washington's chances of defending their title in jeopardy, as the team tries to rally around the remaining players on its roster to make the most of the season.

Here's a look at the Mystics' roster, schedule and some key storylines for when the season starts in Bradenton on July 25.

Roster

NAMEPOSITION

Ariel Atkins

G

Essence Carson

G

Kiara Leslie

G

Leilani Mitchell

G

Shey Peddy

G

Elena Delle Donne

F - G

Ariel Powers

F - G

Tianna Hawkins

F

Myisha Hines-Allen

F

Emma Meesseman

F

Alaina Coates

C

Players sitting out: Natasha Cloud, Tina Charles, LaToya Sanders

Schedule

All games Eastern Standard time

DATETIMEOPPONENTTV

July 25

5 p.m.

Indiana Fever

CBS Sports Network

July 28

7 p.m.

Connecticut Sun

WNBA League Pass

July 30

6 p.m.

Seattle Storm

ESPN

Aug. 1

6 p.m.

Chicago Sky

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 5

8 p.m.

Las Vegas Aces

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 7

7 p.m.

New York Liberty

ESPN2

Aug. 9

5 p.m.

Indiana Fever

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 11

6 p.m.

Minnesota Lynx

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 13

7 p.m.

Los Angeles Sparks

ESPN2

Aug. 15

8 p.m.

Las Vegas Aces

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 19

7 p.m.

Atlanta Dream

CBS Sports Network

Aug. 21

8 p.m.

Dallas Wings

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 23

8 p.m.

Phoenix Mercury

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 26

7 p.m.

Atlanta Dream

WNBA League Pass

Aug. 28

10 p.m.

Phoenix Mercury

CBS Sports Network

Aug. 30

4 p.m.

Connecticut Sun

WNBA League Pass

Sept. 2

10 p.m.

Seattle Storm

CBS Sports Network

Sept. 4

7 p.m.

Chicago Sky

WNBA League Pass

Sept. 6

4 p.m.

Dallas Wings

WNBA League Pass

Sept. 8

8 p.m.

Minnesota Lynx

WNBA League Pass

Sept. 10

10 p.m.

Los Angeles Sparks

CBS Sports Network

Sept. 12

4 p.m.

New York Liberty

WNBA League Pass

Key storylines

A shrinking roster: The Mystics could potentially head into the 2020 season down four players as Cloud opted out of the season to focus on social justice issues, Sanders will be sitting due to health concerns and Charles just announced in an open letter last week that she will also be sitting out after her medical waiver for extrinsic asthma was approved. The jury is still out on if Delle Donne will join the team in Florida, as her medical opt-out was denied. The Mystics, though, have committed to paying her this season regardless of if she decides to play or not. If Delle Donne also decides to sit, the Mystics' playoff odds will drastically change. Without the pairing of Delle Donne and Charles, in addition to missing Cloud's court vision in the backcourt, the Mystics may look like an incredibly different team in the bubble.

Washington could start the season with just 10 players on their roster, and while they still have some solid players in Aerial Powers and Ariel Atkins, they certainly won't be repeating as champions without their star players. If Delle Donne ultimately does decide to play, it would offer some optimism for the Mystics. However, if she sits, then most of the offensive weight will fall on the shoulders of Emma Meesseman. Speaking of which...

The Emma Meesseman show: Meesseman is coming off the best year of her career that ended with her being named the Finals MVP, where she put up 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. She came alive in the postseason, cementing her status as one of the best forwards in the league, which is saying a lot considering she's playing alongside Delle Donne. Her role was already expected to increase this season after her Finals performance, however, with several players out, more responsibility will be heaped on her. What's going to be a challenge for the Belgium native is maintaining the production she had in the Finals last season as defenses make her the focal point of their game plans. She was able to get her shots off when defenses were paying more attention to Delle Donne, Toliver and Cloud, but now, she'll be garnering far more attention every trip down the floor.

Looking toward the future: While this season is the focal point, bigger issues are on the horizon for the Mystics. After this season, six players on their roster will be unrestricted free agents, including Charles, Cloud, Sanders and Meesseman. During the offseason, Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault stressed the goal to build for long-term success, and while signing Delle Donne to an extension that goes through the 2023 season ensured that, a lot of work lies ahead to secure other players around her.

Signing Charles to an extension will be a top priority for the Mystics after this season, and they will now have to do so after not seeing her play in a single game with the team. Other players like Cloud and Meesseman, who were vital pieces to Washington's title run a season ago will also be crucial to re-sign. However, Meesseman had the option to sign to a longer deal this past offseason but chose to sign just a 1-year deal. That decision signaled that the reigning Finals MVP may want to return home to Belgium to play, as she's often left in the middle of the season to play with the national team. This season may be tough for Washington due to COVID-19, playing at a central location and being down key players, however, the future could be even murkier as several players will hit the open market after this year.