Signing or not signing Charles changes the Mystics in free agency approach originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Tina Charles was electric for the Washington Mystics the one season that she played in the District. But, despite her relationship with head coach Mike Thibault and on-court performance, there's no guarantee that she'll return to the team for 2022.
Charles is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. At last season's end, the 34-year-old didn't exactly give a stamp of approval that D.C. is the best place in her mind. She still wants an elusive championship and is willing to go wherever that opportunity is the highest. That may be in Washington, but whether she returns to the Mystics or not will drastically change how the organization approaches a vital offseason.
"I just know I need to win a championship before I retire. Obviously, some decisions are going to have to be made and I have to look into everything," Charles told the Washington Post in September.
Like many free agency periods in the WNBA, the Mystics have a lot on their plate. On top of attempting to court Charles, the team also has the upcoming No. 1 overall pick in the draft, a giant question mark with Emma Meesseman and a big decision to make on retaining Myisha Hines-Allen.
Determining if Charles is going to re-up with the team should be the first decision. Last season - on a one-year deal - she had a near-maximum contract allowed under the CBA ($175,000 of a possible $190,000). What she commands in the open market will likely be similar this season.
Obviously, the team has the advantage over other teams in negotiations by her being on the roster. By now they probably have a good indication of which way she is leaning with discussions that other teams aren't afforded.
But because Hines-Allen is due for a payday as a restricted free agent, along with Meesseman not likely returning, this is a matter that needs to be done quickly. If there's no Charles, Washington will surely be in the running to contend for the plethora of big-name free agents hitting the market. This includes reigning MVP Jonquel Jones, Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Vandersloot.
There's enough room for the remaining $384,000 in cap space (per Spotrac) for one big contract, not two. Keep in mind, though, Hines-Allen may be the one commanding that contract or Meesseman.
Those figures, of course, aren't set as there's always the possibility the Mystics move someone who is currently on their roster.
Without Charles, it likely sets Hines-Allen well to become a bigger priority for the Mystics in making sure they can match any offer. Leading the way for Washington in 2020, with limited members of the championship roster, introduced her full repertoire to the league. But with only one elite season of play under her belt, Washington can likely get Hines-Allen on a team-friendlier contract than if she has another standout season this year.
But if Charles is not a part of the picture, could the front office see another free agent as an upgrade over Hines-Allen in 2022? The team wants to get back into immediate championship form now. Jones, Fowles, Vandersloot and other free agents could do just that. You can throw Meesseman into this mix as well.
Then, after that, Thibault is just tasked with filling out the rest of the roster with quality veterans and the top selection.
If Charles does re-sign, then the approach on Hines-Allen will likely be different. Charles would give them eight players with three more roster spots they must fill. One would, presumably, be the No. 1 draft pick. Just assuming Charles re-signs for the same amount (it may be more and there's a chance it could be less), that would leave less than $137,000 in cap space when factoring in the top pick's contract. The last two roster spots would have to be players at or near minimum contracts, at least one of which with less than three years of experience.
It almost assuredly would leave Hines-Allen out of the fold. Already they've reportedly given her the initial offer sheet for an undisclosed amount, now it's up to her to find a better deal.
Thibault - as the coach and general manager - is not one that is going to wait around. Thibault likes to be aggressive. An example is last season when Aerial Powers was non-committal about her return and then the team went and signed Alysha Clark.
Maybe Charles is one of those players worth waiting for. One goal for Thibault this offseason was to reset the culture of the team and establish an identity. For the most part it appeared the two were on the same wavelength in that regard. Resetting the culture could very well center on Charles.
"That's the personality that you need every night on the floor," Charles said after the last game of the season, referencing the Mystics' intensity. "That's how you have to come into your practices. That's the habits that you have to develop. You can't turn it off and on. You don't want to be the front-running team... that's why you gotta set in a foundation from the beginning of the season, when you do get in these situations, because these types of teams, you have something to fall back on. You don't want to be lucky."
Either way Charles and the Mystics want to be chasing a championship in 2022. Whether they see each other as a ways to an end remains to be seen.