The sides reached a verbal agreement about six days after the negotiation period opened, but something seemed off. Thibault said Powers started asking questions and then bringing up the same ones repeatedly.
“She started to backtrack and drag her feet a little bit,” Thibault said Monday. “Something didn’t sit right. … It felt like, to me, that we were being strung out a little bit by Aerial Powers.”
As Powers mulled over her decision, the Mystics got word that Alysha Clark was amenable to leaving the Seattle Storm. That wasn’t expected from Clark, who won two titles in Seattle and developed into one of the WNBA’s best defenders, so the Mystics moved quickly. The interest shown by Clark grew as Powers remained noncommittal. Soon after, Clark was headed to Washington, and Powers was finalizing a deal with the Minnesota Lynx.
Clark, 33, signed a two-year deal, according to a person with knowledge of the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details have not been made public. WNBA news site Winsidr reported the contract is worth $183,000 per year, which would be the second-richest deal on the roster behind Elena Delle Donne’s.
“I loved being a part of the Washington Mystics and making lasting memories with my amazing teammates there,” Powers said. “Playing under Coach T helped me grow and take my game to another level.
“I won’t speak on negotiations I have had with the Mystics nor any other team. I’m excited about my decision and felt it was the best for me at this point in my career.”
The speed of the Clark courtship got an enormous assist from Delle Donne and teammate Natasha Cloud. They immediately began to work the phones, singing the praises of the organization and life in D.C.
This was a different position for Clark. She always has been a bit of an underdog, from starting her career at Belmont, to transferring to Middle Tennessee and leading the nation in scoring, to being drafted by the San Antonio Silver Stars in the second round of the 2010 draft but not catching on to a WNBA roster until Seattle signed her in 2012. She went on to win two titles and be named first-team all-defense in 2020, but this is her first time hitting free agency as a universally regarded elite talent.
“This is the first time I’ve been actually a part of free agency where teams are interested,” Clark said. “So I really just wanted to give respect to the process of really listening and talking with other teams and hearing what they had to say, and really sit back and ask myself: ‘What is it I want for myself and what I want for my future and my career? And then what do I want after basketball?’
“It felt right. I trust my gut on a lot of things and, when something fits right in my gut, I know it’s the right move. It wasn’t easy by any means. Change is really hard for me.”
The addition of Clark offsets the loss of Powers and brings a different dynamic to the team. Powers averaged career highs with 16.3 points and a 46.4 field goal percentage in six games before a hamstring injury ended her season. At 27, Powers is six years younger than Clark and has been more of an all-around offensive threat.
But Clark is far from a slouch on the offensive end; she averaged career highs in points (10), assists (2.7) and steals (1.5) last season, shooting a league-leading 52.2 percent from three-point range. The 5-foot-11 forward was considered an undersized post player in college but led the nation at 28.3 points per game as a senior. Her 132 points in three games of the 2010 Sun Belt Conference tournament remain one of the most impressive tournament outbursts in NCAA history.
Clark’s defensive prowess made her a defensive player of the year candidate last season, and the Mystics’ likely starting lineup includes three players who were second-team all-defense in 2019 — Clark, Cloud and Ariel Atkins.
“I don’t think anybody will do that ever again in the history of women’s basketball,” Middle Tennessee Coach Rick Insell said of Clark’s 2010 Sun Belt tournament performance. “I am biased, but they would not have won that first world championship that Seattle won without Alysha Clark. She was their defensive stopper, she ended up being that [second-leading] rebounder in that championship series.
“She’s all about winning. All about being a team player. Not into stats. Not into a lot of recognition. Just about what she can do to make a team better. That’s the way she’s been her whole life.”
The Mystics are probably done being major players in free agency, but there’s still work to do at home. Emma Meesseman has a complicated situation with international responsibilities for her Belgian national team and could miss time for EuroBasket competition and the Olympics. The team would prefer for the 2019 Finals MVP to agree to return but not sign until after she finishes the other competitions and can be on the roster full time. That would give the organization some financial flexibility under the salary cap, and Thibault said he could keep the roster at 11 players until Meesseman arrives.
Thibault hopes former MVP Tina Charles will sign in the next 24 to 48 hours; she’s currently away working with her production company. The Mystics hold exclusive negotiating rights with Cloud and LaToya Sanders, and Thibault would like them in the fold by the end of the week. Tianna Hawkins remains a free agent and has yet to indicate her plans.