Crystal Basketball: What is Elena Delle Donne’s future in WNBA?

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

We are almost two weeks into the period on the WNBA calendar where free agents are able to sign with teams. It appears the majority of the major dominoes that could fall have indeed fallen. 

As of this ink (Feb. 12), the latest signings on the WNBA’s transactions page were that of Emma Cannon to a training camp contract with the Dallas Wings and Jamie Nared signing a similar contract with the Minnesota Lynx.

But we know Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike will be with the Seattle Storm. We know Natasha Cloud went to the Phoenix Mercury via a free agent signing and we know Kahleah Copper was traded to the Mercury from the Chicago Sky for Brianna Turner, Michaela Onyenwere and draft picks. 

Candace Parker is returning to the Las Vegas Aces. DeWanna Bonner is returning to the Connecticut Sun. Rebecca Allen was also traded to the Mercury from the Sun. Brionna Jones was cored by Connecticut. Lexie Brown is returning to the Los Angeles Sparks. Satou Sabally is returning to the Wings. Monique Billings to the Sparks. 

Then….there’s Elena Delle Donne. 

Delle Donne reached an apex of her WNBA career in 2019 when she led the Washington Mystics to a championship despite three herniated discs. While she has certainly established a Hall of Fame career between her Mystics and Sky days, she is getting up there in age. 

Not to mention her injury issues continue to be well documented. One can even make a case that those injury woes are exactly why the Mystics have not lived up to the potential they can achieve ala that 2019 run. 

The Mystics cored Delle Donne meaning she had the option of signing a one-year supermax deal to return to the team once again. Delle Donne was also the subject of trade rumors – most notably to the Mercury. Because of Washington coring Delle Donne, any trade would have to occur via a sign-and-trade. The Mystics still maintain Delle Donne’s contract rights. 

Instead of signing that one-year supermax, Delle Donne has reportedly decided to take time away from the game. 

This comes at a very pivotal time for both Delle Donne and the Mystics. Firstly, one has to think about where Delle Donne herself is. She is in her mid-30s and is no longer in search of that elusive WNBA championship the way Diggins-Smith is hoping to capture in Seattle. Delle Donne still put up impressive numbers last season as she averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 rebounds plus a shooting percentage of 48.5 percent in 23 games.

Delle Donne could also see that the Mystics trade of Cloud to the Mercury was an obvious sign that the franchise is preparing to go into rebuild mode. One has to believe that someone who is as proud a competitor as Delle Donne may not be the most comfortable with playing for a team that is not exactly in “win now” mode. 

Or the snafu may be over something deeper. Only those within the sphere of either Delle Donne or the team know for sure. 

Speaking of Washington…they – along with the Sparks and Sky – seem to be the three teams that are in rebuild mode. Those three teams seem to be looking to whenever JuJu Watkins becomes eligible in either 2026 or 2027. Ensuring that one will be in position to win one of those draft lotteries will do the trick. 

It also occurs given both Delle Donne and the Mystics are putting emphasis on ventures that have little, if anything, to do with basketball. Delle Donne recently started a wine company and the Mystics’ parent company is attempting to convince Virginia politicians to help fund a new stadium/entertainment complex on the other side of the Potomac River. 

One of the latest developments with that involves L. Louise Lucas, a top Democrat in Virginia, saying a bill that would have funded the effort is dead. The Mystics, reportedly, under the arrangement would have moved from DC Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington’s heavily Black Eighth Ward to Capital One Arena.

Who knows if other teams were in on Delle Donne. After all, the New York Liberty were certainly in on Nneka Ogwumike, meaning they were looking to bolster a frontcourt that already includes Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart. The obvious difference was that Ogwumike was a free agent. Plus, New York is still close to Delaware which was what enticed Delle Donne to depart Chicago for the District in the first place. 

When Delle Donne mulls over what her basketball future will be these next few months, she is likely to think about two things. Not only if she will play in 2025 but also her long-term future given she may not be that far away from calling it a career. 

Regardless, Delle Donne has compiled one of those impressive resumes in women’s hoops history. And once her playing days do, indeed, conclude, we are sure that she is set up for an impressive second act.