Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

THIBAULT TALKS FREE AGENCY AND MORE

BY BEN STANDIG | FEB. 24, 2018

The Sports Capitol caught up with Washington Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault following a recent batch of moves and news. Part one includes dealing with the loss of second-leading scorer Emma Meesseman for one season and the Monique Currie-Kirk Cousins comparison.

The Sports Capitol: The team announced recently that Emma Meesseman, a 2015 All-Star and one of the league’s top young players, would not play for the Mystics in 2018. How did this go down?

Mike Thibault: We’ve been kind of anticipating it. She had nonstop play for almost six years. I went over to see her in November with (the Belgium) national team. There were probably two parts to this. Number one, we were at an impasse about the end part of our season. The national team had no problems with her being here for all of the regular season. The problem is they wanted her to leave our team during the playoffs. That just doesn’t work for a lot of reasons.

Emma has gone through these six years taking a pretty good beating on a body that she’s trying to get stronger. She was exhausted at the end of our season last year. It just caught up, the non-stop year round playing, caught up with her. She and I talked, and we talked again just before Christmas. She came to the decision that the national team meant everything to her.

They had already qualified for the world championships. This is an opportunity to play with the players she had grown up with. The national team coach had been her youth coach. Her mom had been a star on the national team. You had all that pressure added to it and she had a chance for the first time in these six years to rest her body for two to three months before playing.

I understood it. Not easy for our team, but I understood it. Maybe in the long run she’ll come back next year refreshed and ready to go, but she was just worn down, I think physically and mentally.

The preparation for us has been OK because we knew it could happen. We knew LaToya Sanders (season-ending foot injury in 2017) was coming back, which was a big piece that we missed last year. We were able to sign Devereaux Peters. It kind of puts Elena Delle Donne back at her normal position at power forward. Last year we played her a lot at small forward. She did well with it, but she is more comfortable at the four. By doing that we signed Mo Currie and brought her back. We’ll have some balance to our offense and we’ll have some depth.

We can sustain it. We survived last year when Emma was gone. We were 8-3, we were good, but we played a little different way. Granted during that time Tayler Hill was healthy, but our team found a way and then adjusted when (Emma) came back. I think we’ll be fine.

TSC: Currie returns home to her native D.C. and with the team she played with from 2007-2014. How has her game evolved since she was with you last and how does she fit in?

MT: When she was here before she left because a contract – not dispute, but she was in situation a little bit like the Kirk Cousins situation. We have what’s called a core situation in (the WNBA). You get a franchise tag for one player. Before I came here, she had that a couple of times. We were in a situation where if we did it again, she would have been the highest-paid player in the league. We didn’t feel where we were at the time warranted it. We couldn’t agree on a different kind of deal. She took a deal to go elsewhere. She and I have had a good relationship since, and I felt like this was the right time to bring her back.

Her game has changed in a couple of different ways. When she was here before, she was in a situation where she had to be either our best or second-best player. Now she doesn’t have to do that, there is not that pressure. She can come and be another piece of the puzzle alongside Elena. We brought in Kristi Toliver last year who is a go-to player. Now we have a chance to balance our offense.

With Mo, I think she’s gotten way better on the offensive end in that she’s added a consistent 3-point shot to her game (40 percent last season with San Antonio and Phoenix). That is the way the league and pro basketball in general is going. I think she’ll fit right back in to what we’re doing defensively. Some of things she saw in Phoenix is similar to what we do. I think she’s a more mature player. I don’t think she’ll put the same amount of pressure on herself as probably did when she was here before.