Mike Thibault
Mike Thibault previously worked with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s Credit: Kelyn Soong/File

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Whatever happens in tomorrow night’s WNBA Draft, Mystics coach Mike Thibault won’t be too concerned. He believes his team has already acquired one of the best players from it.

In a major trade Wednesday, the reigning WNBA champion Mystics received former league MVP Tina Charles from the New York Liberty in a three-team deal that also included the Dallas Wings. The Mystics parted with guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and gave up their No. 12 overall pick in tomorrow’s draft and all three selections in the 2021 draft.

The steep price was worth it to Thibault, who called the move “a no-brainer type of trade” that gives the team flexibility in its lineups.

“I saw no downside of this,” the coach told reporters via a Zoom call hours after the trade. “When you have the 12th pick you’re not getting a player who’s going to come in and necessarily impact your team. So we’re put in a position where we’re going to take a calculated risk on a player who has been an MVP, an All-Star, and an Olympian.”

Charles joined the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 for the Connecticut Sun and played three seasons there for Thibault, who guided her to the 2012 MVP award. 

The addition of the 6-foot-4 center gives the Mystics another much-needed post presence and instantly makes them a favorite to repeat as champions. 

“We have a pretty good scoring team, but I felt we could do some more damage with a post player like Tina, who if you end up playing one-on-one, she’s deadly and if you double team her, she’s a great passer,” Thibault said. “So I think that was a big part of it and then on the defensive end, it gives people like LaToya [Sanders] and Emma [Meesseman] and Elena [Delle Donne], another defender to go against a lot of the big post players that we play against in our league.”

Being a core tag player for New York meant that Charles could’ve signed with the Liberty and be paid a max salary, and that the team could only trade her to a team of her choice. Charles and the Mystics started conversations several months ago and the two sides reached a one-year deal in recent weeks.

“We gave her some options she could have signed longer,” Thibault said. “I think she just wants to see how she fits on this team. And we’re in a situation next year where we have several free agents on our team and we’re going to have to do a lot of thinking about how we manage the salary cap a year from now, but it was her choice.”

Thibault reached out to players like Delle Donne, the defending league MVP, and Sanders to explain the move and make sure they were on board. Having Charles on the court will give his players a lighter load defending in the paint, particularly against post players like 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner and 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage.

Charles averaged 16.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game last season for the Liberty.

“Last year in the Vegas series, Emma and LaToya tag-teamed playing against Cambage and they took a beating for it,” Thibault said. “So we’re trying to cut that beating into thirds instead of halves right now.”

Thibault hasn’t spoken to Charles about whether she would be starting or coming off the bench, but said that Sanders, who competed at the center position in 2019, is “very, very comfortable in doing any role that you ask her.”

The chance to win a WNBA championship also weighed on Charles’ decision to join the Mystics, Thibault said. She asked the coach if the team would still be motivated to repeat. Thibault assured Charles they were.

“That’s not something you’re going to have to worry about,” he told her.