Feelings of disappointment shouldn’t reign too long over fans of the Washington Mystics as they think back on a season that ended with a first-round exit at the hands of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Sue Bird and the Storm. Yes, getting swept as a No. 5 seed stings. But more importantly, the Elena Delle Donne era isn’t over.

In 2021, there were signals that the EDD regime had met its end. Alysha Clark’s season-ending injury prior to the start of the season casted a fog, and Delle Donne’s three-game return before ruling herself out for the summer was the nail in the coffin for a Mystics season that never went right. 

After playing through three herniated discs in her back in the 2019 playoffs, sitting out the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic and playing all of 52 minutes in 2021, it felt like the championship bliss had worn off and it was time to move on.

But head coach and general manager Mike Thibault held on to hope, opting to move the No. 1 pick in the draft, which could’ve landed impending Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard and brought a new generational talent to The District. 

Instead, he moved down in favor of a pick swap (where he’ll have another chance in the lottery next season) and the No. 3 pick which netted Shakira Austin — a complement to Delle Donne. He had the confidence his Hall of Famer would return to peak form, and she did.

The Mystics lost Game 1, but Delle Donne’s 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting was all Washington fans needed to see to know their window — maybe in a year they don’t have to play an about-to-retire Bird on the road in consecutive games — isn’t closed. Austin’s stellar rookie year along with Natasha Cloud’s continued two-way growth and Ariel Atkins’ skill as a secondary should make D.C. fans believe again.

And it wasn’t a one-game sample for the former MVP. She averaged 17.2 points per game on 48% shooting from the field and 36.8% shooting from 3-point range with 6.3 rebounds in 25 games.

The Mystics have some off-season moves to make, but actually, their season was good. This team is still more than relevant. They’re a threat in 2023.

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