“Obviously, this is a really big deal for us,” Mystics General Manager/Coach Mike Thibault said. “Getting a player of Tina’s caliber — former MVP, Olympian, all-star. To add her to a team like we have is such a huge thing. It will determine how we’re going to play this year, our style of play. … We already are a pretty good scoring team, but I felt we could do some more damage with a post player like Tina.”
Charles, a seven-time all-star and the 2012 MVP, is the most notable name to change teams this offseason, and prying her from her native New York was no small task. The Liberty has a new owner in Joe Tsai and will move into Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, this season. Her father’s business, Charlie’s Records, is less than two miles from the arena.
Charles played the first three seasons of her WNBA career under Thibault with the Connecticut Sun, and that connection played a role in the reunion. Thibault said Charles, who was not made available for comment, asked New York months ago to initiate trade discussions to move her to Washington. At 31, Charles is a two-time NCAA champion at Connecticut and a two-time Olympic gold medalist but has yet to play for a WNBA title. She is not under contract beyond 2020.
Thibault called Charles’s one-year deal a calculated gamble for the team. For Charles, who signed the deal with the Liberty so it could trade her to the Mystics, the wager is how she fits into a roster that faces salary constraints that come with a strong young nucleus.
“We’re in a situation next year where we have several free agents on our team,” Thibault said, “and we’re going to have to do a lot of thinking of how we manage the salary cap a year from now. … I saw no downside to this. … If this experience in Washington is what I think it will be for her, then there would be no reason for her not to want to come back here.”
Charles only had glowing words about Thibault during an October interview with The Washington Post. “He always set the standard, as far as when I’m with other head coaches, for what a head coach looked like,” she said then.
Charles has been named all-WNBA five times and was unanimously chosen rookie of the year in 2010. She ranks No. 10 on the league’s all-time scoring list with 5,982 points and No. 5 all-time in rebounds (3,133). Charles has also been named to the all-defensive team four times. She averaged 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds last season and has been extremely durable throughout her career, playing fewer than 30 games just once (in 2013, when she played 29). She has missed only four games in the past six seasons.
“Tina Charles is a name that will forever be synonymous with New York basketball,” Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb said in a statement. “Over the past six seasons, Tina has cemented herself not only in the Liberty record books, but in the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere due to her tireless and selfless work in the community. On behalf of the New York Liberty organization I thank Tina and wish her well in Washington.”
The loss of the first-round pick in Friday’s draft is not expected to have much of an impact on a deep Mystics roster. Walker-Kimbrough, a 5-9 guard entering her fourth season and a former star at Maryland, averaged a career-best 6.7 points last season and 17.1 minutes per game.
The Liberty, meanwhile, used part of its haul from the Mystics to make a second trade with Dallas. New York, expected to take Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu with the first overall pick in Friday’s draft, sent Washington’s 2021 first-round pick to the Wings as part of a deal for guard Tayler Hill.
The trade for Charles offers a clear glimpse into the Mystics’ mind-set after winning their first WNBA title last season. Thibault is set on a repeat, which the WNBA hasn’t seen since the Los Angeles Sparks went back-to-back in 2001-02. And he knows what awaits the Mystics whenever the season starts.
“We have a window that’s open right now,” Thibault said. “The core of our team is 30-and-under. … By bringing Tina in, we were kicking our window wide open to give us an opportunity over the next several years to compete for a championship. You never know how long a run is going to go.”
Ava Wallace contributed to this report.