When Mike Thibault arrived in the District two years ago with the assignment of rebuilding the Washington Mystics, part of the process included having to relay disappointing news to longer-tenured players they would not be part of the franchise’s future.
The most emphatic of those moves came on WNBA draft night when Thibault engineered a deal that sent Crystal Langhorne to the Seattle Storm in exchange for Tianna Hawkins and the No. 7 pick, who wound up being Bria Hartley. Langhorne had become the highest-profile member of the Mystics since being selected No. 6 overall in the 2008 draft, and the forward-center was even more of a hometown favorite after having helped Maryland to the 2006 NCAA title.
The third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder in Mystics history is set to make her first trip back to Verizon Center since the trade when Washington hosts the Storm on Saturday night. The Mystics (1-1) will be playing at home for the first time since losing to the visiting WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, 89-77, in the season opener May 16.
“It was a great experience,” Langhorne said of her time with the Mystics. “It was just a great atmosphere to play for the local team since I came from Maryland. But now it’s a change and starting fresh.”
Langhorne, 27, has started both games for Seattle (0-3 after Friday night’s loss at Connecticut) this season and is averaging 10 points and 5.7 rebounds. The two-time all-star averaged at least 12 points and 6.3 rebounds over her final five seasons in Washington, including a career-high 18.2 points in 2011.
But with the enticement of being able to add two younger players with a wealth of potential, Thibault made a business decision Langhorne called “somewhat of a shock.” Also caught off-guard was longtime teammate Monique Currie, who is the only player remaining from the previous regime since Thibault took over as general manager and coach.
Currie and Langhorne became close during their six seasons together in Washington that last year featured the club’s first postseason appearance since 2010 and first playoff victory since 2004.
“I understand it’s the way the business goes, but it doesn’t take away from the natural feelings,” Currie said. “Crystal is a friend of mine, so hate to see her go, but it’s a new opportunity for her, so I’ve embraced it.”
In the aftermath of Langhorne’s departure, the Mystics have become one of the youngest teams in the WNBA. Seven of 12 players are either rookies or in their second year, and among those on the roster last season, only Currie, center Kia Vaughn and point guard Ivory Latta have at least five years in the league.
Latta is in her eighth season and has been in a similar position as Langhorne. The Mystics’ scoring leader spent three productive seasons with the Tulsa Shock, but the team declined to re-sign the free agent in 2012. Thibault brought Latta to the nation’s capital, calling the all-American at North Carolina a “catalyst for our turnaround.”
“It’s nothing personal,” said Latta, who set a personal single-game record with seven three-pointers in the opener. “It’s part of the business, and that’s how it goes in any sport. I’ve been on that end when I wasn’t with a team a long time. They made business moves. They felt like I was a small guard, and they wanted a big guard, so I couldn’t take anything personal.”