Nine months ago, coach Mike Thibault's Washington Mystics blew past Connecticut in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the finals to win their — and his — first WNBA title.
On Saturday, in the coronavirus-necessitated bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the defending champion Mystics will host Indiana in their 2020 opener.
You might not recognize them.
Part of it is the natural movement of players; guard Kristi Toliver left via free agency.
But the rest of Thibault's roster tumult is a sign of the times.
Guard Natasha Cloud has decided to work on social justice issues instead of playing.
Center LaToya Sanders has opted out for health reasons, and star Elena Delle Donne, who has Lyme disease and had offseason back surgery, is almost certain not to play.
Tina Charles, acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade, has opted out as well.
"It's pretty incredible,'' Thibault said. "Four of our top projected six or seven players won't be here. It's just different.''
The depleted Mystics are not alone. The 22-game season will start with a number of big names missing, including Lynx All-Star guard and new mother Odyssey Sims, who could join the team later. Jonquel Jones, Tiffany Hayes and Liz Cambage, among others, are also sitting this season out.
Just about every team — except perhaps Seattle, which is getting stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird back from injuries — has some key losses. And the virus standstill delayed the start of the season more than two months, shortening training camps and eliminating preseason games.
After her team's scrimmage with Las Vegas on Monday, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve openly wondered just what fans would see on opening weekend.
"I'm concerned about the product,'' she said. "There hasn't been enough time to be in great shape. We'll be ready to play a game, because the players are tired of practicing. But it will be a challenge.''
Which teams will be in the best shape? Which will be further along in preparation? Intuition would suggest the teams with the least turnover would have an edge.
This much we know: In a shortened season with 22 games (instead of the normal 34), the teams that get out to a quick start will have an enormous edge.
"We won't have the same kind of game habits,'' Thibault said. "It will get better quickly. But there could be some blowout games early.
"But it's going to take some teams a while to be ready. It will be interesting. I think some of the young teams — Dallas, or Indiana maybe — could get off to a good start.''