Cloud, 31, had spent her entire eight-season WNBA career with Washington after she was drafted with the third pick of the second round in the 2015 draft. She was a starter on the 2019 championship team and built a reputation as a vocal leader and defensive stalwart.
“This free agency, everyone thinks it’s fun. It is so stressful,” Cloud said in an interview on ESPN. “Especially when you’ve been in one place your entire career, it makes it that much harder. But the decision wasn’t necessarily mine. So finding the next home for me was really important.
“I’ve been so blessed with the opportunity to speak to a lot of teams, a lot of organizations that really sought after me, which felt nice to be valued and appreciated. There was just one team I felt comfortable with from the jump and the direction that they’re going into. I just couldn’t pass up on it.”
The move is the first in what is expected to be a transitional offseason for the Mystics after they tried for years to maximize a championship window with the core of that 2019 team. The team extended a core qualifying offer to two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne, who was set to be an unrestricted free agent, meaning she can re-sign on a one-year deal worth the league maximum or work out a longer-term contract, but her future remains uncertain. Forward Tianna Hawkins is an unrestricted free agent, and forward Li Meng was extended a reserve qualifying offer.
Cloud was named second-team all-defense in 2019 and first-team all-defense in 2022. She led the league in assists in 2022 and ranked in the top five in the category in 2019, 2021 and 2023 (she sat out the 2020 season). Last season, Cloud averaged career highs in points (12.7) and rebounds (3.7) and showed she could be a more consistent scoring threat, though her shooting percentage has surpassed 40 percent just once during her career.
“Natasha is an elite playmaker, one of the best defenders in the league and is coming off a career year as a scorer,” Mercury General Manager Nick U’Ren said in a statement. “The tenacity and energy Natasha plays with, on both ends of the court, will help make our team more dynamic, versatile and competitive.”
Cloud immersed herself in the community during her time in Washington and was regularly outspoken about social justice causes. She opted out of the 2020 season amid a summer of racial reckoning and wrote an essay for the Players’ Tribune to explain her decision. “The millions of people who are helping to protect those racist cops, and who are helping to insulate those in power, by staying ‘neutral,’” she wrote, “ … it’s to tell them that their silence is the knee on George Floyd’s neck. … If you’re silent, I don’t f— with you, period.”
Cloud organized a media blackout in 2019 to address gun violence in the District and became an unofficial sponsor of Hendley Elementary and Ward 8 in Southeast Washington. She has said she intends to go into politics after her playing career is over.
“The fan base and the community and, obviously, my teammates were the most important part of my career there,” Cloud told ESPN. “They took a mid-major kid in who wasn’t supposed to be anything and you allowed me to grow. You allowed me to learn. You allowed me to fail. You supported me through the last nine years of my career. You built me up. You molded me. You allowed me to find my voice, too, which has been the most important part of my career — just being a voice for the voiceless.”
The Mystics announced Thursday morning that they signed former Los Angeles Sparks guard Karlie Samuelson.
The 6-foot Samuelson, 28, is coming off the most productive year of her five-season career, starting 23 games for the Sparks and averaging career highs in points (7.7), rebounds (3.0), assists (2.0), field goal percentage (46.3) and three-point percentage (42.6) in 2023.
Samuelson said her breakout season was the byproduct of being with the same team from the start of training camp for the first time in her career. She was able to get comfortable with her teammates and the system.
“Honestly, just seemed like they want me to be me,” Samuelson said about what the Mystics expect from her. “And I think that’s great when you’re joining a team. … Bring my shooting. I’m a big wing. I can defend a lot of positions. I love systems on defense and offense. I love following schemes. … What I really want to do is be, it’s a cliché quote, but really be a champion in my role. And I think that’s what helps make good teams even greater.”
Samuelson’s three-point percentage ranked sixth in the WNBA last season, and her presence will address the Mystics’ need for outside shooting after they ranked seventh in the league in that category last season.
The Mystics also signed three players — guard Julie Vanloo, forward Emily Engstler and guard/forward DiDi Richards — to training camp contracts.