If you've been a Washington Mystics fan for any length of time, you've probably either expanded your sense of gallows humor or developed it. It's been a necessary quality in supporting a franchise that in its 19 seasons has been all over the map -- sometimes seeming to have a good plan, sometimes totally flying off the rails, sometimes having bad luck, sometimes just getting in its own way.
That might sound like the path many sports franchises go through in two decades of ups and downs, but the Mystics have been their own special kind of hot mess in their worst times. Considering many of their fans live in or near the nation's capital and are used to the theater of the absurd that politics can provide, they typically have handled the Mystics' odyssey with a wry mixture of eternal hope and weary resignation.
Contradictory as those emotions seem, they often cohabitate in sports fans of franchises that never "win the big one." In truth, though, the Mystics aren't even in that tortured category. They launched in the league's second year, 1998, and are the only remaining organization that's never reached the WNBA Finals (the Dallas Wings did it while they were still the Detroit Shock). The Mystics have made the playoffs nine times, winning just one series -- in 2002.
But are they on the verge of something great? Maybe. However, in keeping with Mystics' history, things could probably go either way.
Pending final approval of all details, superstar 6-foot-5 guard/forward Elena Delle Donne will be traded to the Mystics from Chicago. That will send center Stefanie Dolson, guard/forward Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 pick in this year's draft to the Windy City.
The Mystics, in a three-way trade with New York and Seattle on Monday, also dealt center Kia Vaughn and guard Bria Hartley to the Liberty and obtained the No. 6 pick in the draft from the Storm.
WNBA followers likely remember how crushed Mystics managing partner Sheila C. Johnson appeared at the lottery for the 2013 draft, when the top three prizes were Baylor's Brittney Griner (who went to Phoenix), Delaware's Delle Donne (Chicago), and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins (Tulsa/Dallas). The Mystics went 5-29 in 2012, and had the greatest odds of getting the top pick. Instead, they got No. 4, and took Ohio State guard Tayler Hill.
But now, the Mystics have both Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA MVP and one of women's basketball's most dynamic scorers, and Hill, who missed most of 2014 because of pregnancy but had the best season of her young career last year. She started 32 games and averaged 15.4 points and is currently a restricted free agent.
Washington also has 6-4 center Emma Meesseman, who doesn't turn 23 until May and averaged a career-high 15.2 points last year. It's a mostly young core with a lot of offensive potential.
Plus, the Mystics have a veteran coach and general manager in Mike Thibault, who will be in his fifth season in Washington and his 15th season overall in the WNBA. The Mystics had 12 different coaches in their first 15 seasons, which obviously contributed to the chaos the franchise went through.
Thibault is a three-time WNBA coach of the year and took Connecticut to the playoffs nine times in his 10 years with the Sun. He understands how to build a team and navigate it through a season, and he took the Mystics to the playoffs his first three years there.
Last year, Washington missed the postseason at 13-21, and it seemed likely that Thibault would be busy trying to make some changes this winter.
That intersected with Delle Donne's strong desire to be back closer to her Delaware home, which was augmented by her growing disenchantment with the Sky. She had thumb surgery and missed the playoffs last season, and her relationship with then-coach Pokey Chatman seemed strained. Chatman was let go after the season but was quickly hired by Indiana to replace Stephanie White, who went to coach at Vanderbilt.
The Sky organization's philosophy, from some players' perspective, might be called no-frills -- or less charitably, nickel-and-diming. To be fair, the Sky have some financial challenges in not being affiliated with an NBA team and competing in a sports-saturated city that includes two MLB teams.
Like center Sylvia Fowles before her, Delle Donne wanted out, and she was willing to skip this coming season to force the issue if needed. Fowles sat out about half of the 2015 season to force a trade to Minnesota, where she then won a WNBA championship.
Both Fowles (2008) and Delle Donne (2013) were No. 2 draft picks, with the former spending seven seasons in Chicago and the latter four. Together, they helped the Sky reach the 2014 WNBA Finals, where Chicago was swept by Phoenix.
Sky fans might be angry at one or both of players, but realistically they are just workers looking for what they feel is their best workplace/life situation.
And considering that Delle Donne bypassed playing for UConn because she wanted to be close to home and her family, including her disabled sister, it's not surprising that Washington -- regardless of that franchise's history -- would be appealing to her.
Delle Donne is a big name, and she alone will bring in fan interest. The Mystics have had some very good players, including Chamique Holdsclaw, Alana Beard, Monique Currie, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Crystal Langhorne. But until now, they've never had an MVP-winner on the roster.
Delle Donne, 27, has averaged 20.5 points in 105 regular-season games, and 17.6 in 14 postseason games. She played on the gold-winning U.S. Olympic team last summer, averaging 8.6 points. She continues to deal with the lingering effects of Lyme disease, which forced her to leave early from overseas play in China recently. But for the most part, she's been able to manage that during her WNBA career.
Washington also will be moving from the Verizon Center to a new arena that is expected to be completed in 2018. There are contrasting views of this, but a lot of Mystics fans don't seem that pleased, in part because the location is in a part of D.C. that is more difficult to access via public transportation.
The building, which also will be a practice facility for the NBA's Wizards, will hold about 4,500 for Mystics games. Is that too small, or just right to create a consistently loud, energetic atmosphere? Will fans get used to the trip to the Ward 8 location in the southeastern part of the city? Will the Mystics sometimes still play in the Verizon Center?
We'll have to wait and see on those things. But this much is certain: Delle Donne's move to D.C. is one of the biggest pieces of good news the franchise has ever had.
Players like Delle Donne don't come around very often, so when you get a chance to obtain someone like that, you relish it. Mystics fans have had enough over which to shake their heads in dismay or bafflement. This is a time for them to feel excited.
How good can the Mystics be with Elena Delle Donne?