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Mystics add Kristi Toliver, Brittney Sykes on first day of free agency

Kristi Toliver is headed back to the Washington Mystics after two seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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The Washington Mystics didn’t come away with free agency’s biggest prize Wednesday after Breanna Stewart joined the New York Liberty, but they did add two key pieces while striving to remain in contention for the WNBA title.

The organization added defensive standout Brittney Sykes and three-time all-star Kristi Toliver on the first day teams could sign free agents. Guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough also will return to Washington, the team announced.

The Mystics will have work to do; the Liberty and Las Vegas Aces are the WNBA favorites. New York now has a core of 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, 2018 MVP Stewart and 2020 No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu. The Aces, the defending champions, already had reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray before adding two-time MVP Candace Parker and two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark, who spent the previous two seasons with Washington.

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The Mystics signed Sykes, who turns 29 next week, to a three-year deal. She averaged 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the Los Angeles Sparks last season. The 5-foot-9 guard has been named to the WNBA’s all-defense team three times — including the first team once — and led the league in steals the past two seasons.

“Brittney was a main target for us in free agency,” Mystics General Manager Mike Thibault said in a statement. “She brings a skill set to our backcourt that perfectly complements our other perimeter players. Her speed in transition [and] ability to get to the basket or find open teammates will allow us to accelerate our offensive pace and flow. She can play offense and defense at three positions.”

Bringing back Toliver, the former Maryland standout who helped the Mystics to the 2019 title, was unexpected. The 36-year-old has played 13 seasons and was with Washington from 2017 to 2019, when she twice was named an all-star. She announced her return on Instagram.

“Excited to announce that I’ll be returning to the outstanding organization and team, the Washington Mystics,” Toliver wrote. “DC is my home, these teammates are my family and I look forward to the opportunity to bring another banner to The District.”

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Toliver is an assistant coach with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and plans to join Washington when their season ends. She and the Mystics agreed to terms, but she won’t officially sign until she’s ready to join the team, which will allow Washington to keep a roster spot open. Last season, Toliver joined the Sparks in mid-June after Dallas lost in the Western Conference finals. In 11 games, she averaged a career-low 5.9 points while shooting a career-worst 37.3 percent.

Walker-Kimbrough signed a two-year, guaranteed contract, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. Another Maryland product, she was the No. 6 pick by the Mystics in 2017 and averaged 6.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals as a key reserve last season.

“Shatori has been an integral part of the Mystics’ success and was a major priority for us during free agency,” Thibault said in a statement. “Her ability and energy at both ends of the court has a great impact on how we play. Her offensive game continues to expand, and she has become an excellent defender on all the perimeter positions. We see her as a mainstay on our roster.”

The Mystics also reached an agreement to part ways with point guard Rui Machida. Machida is not under contract, but the Mystics had held her exclusive negotiating rights. The 2022 season was the Japanese star’s first in the WNBA; she showed her passing ability but struggled to shoot the ball, averaging 1.8 points and 2.6 assists in 12.9 minutes.

“We really enjoyed having Rui as part of our organization last season,” Thibault said in a statement. “However, with the new changes in our roster, there isn’t the same opportunity here for her this coming season.”

The Mystics’ roster filled out fast around the core of Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen and Shakira Austin. Sykes, Walker-Kimbrough and Toliver (when she joins the team) bring the number to eight. Evina Westbrook and Jazmine Jones are signed to training camp contracts, and Tianna Hawkins is also expected back on a camp deal. The Mystics still need someone to back up Austin and Delle Donne, and they have had discussions with free agent Elizabeth Williams. WNBA teams can have a 12-player roster, but most keep just 11 to help with the salary cap.

The Mystics own the No. 4 pick in the draft, which is set for April 10.