Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud had a bone to pick with the WNBA defensive award selections, and she set off a chain reaction of grievances from coaches and players across the league.

Cloud took exception to WNBA awards voting after being shut out for the Defensive Player of the Year award and the all-defensive team selections.

“Voting for this league is a joke,” Cloud wrote on social media in a now-deleted post, before alluding to awards voting boiling down to politics in another post.

Mystics head coach Eric Thibault also weighed in, calling Cloud’s absence “hard to understand.”

“Removing positions for the All-Defense teams is mostly to blame,” he wrote. “Stats are how people largely vote on/explain these awards, and that means steals, blocks, and rebounds. Two of those three immediately skew towards bigs.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Lexie Brown had a similar thought, asking on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter: “What do guards need to do more to be considered elite defenders?”

Chicago Sky guard Courtney Williams proposed a change to the voting pool. A national panel of 60 sportswriters and broadcasters voted on the Defensive Player of the Year award and the all-defensive teams, but Williams would prefer voters from within the league itself.

“Yeah they should let players and coaches vote on these awards,” Williams wrote on X. “It’s just different having to scout and play against it night in and night out.”

After the kerfuffle over the defensive awards, Chicago Sky forward Isabelle Harrison looked forward to the announcement of the 2023 WNBA MVP, which is set for Tuesday. Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson are the front-runners for the award.

“Before MVP is announced, trust me when I say, if (Alyssa Thomas) doesn’t win IMO, the credibility of this award tremendously drops,” she wrote on X. “Obviously no disrespect to others considered for it but plz plz plzzzz respect the year she’s having.”

Natasha Cloud is taking exception to WNBA awards voting after being shut out for the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award and the all-defensive team selections.

A’ja Wilson won the award as the top defensive player for the second year in a row, and Alyssa Thomas, Brittney Sykes and Betnijah Laney all received votes. Sykes and Thomas were named to the all-defensive first team alongside Wilson, as were Jordin Canada and Breanna Stewart.

Laney, Napheesa Collier, Ezi Magbegor, Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams were named to the all-defensive second team.

For the Washington Mystics in 2023, Cloud averaged 1.1 steals and 0.3 blocks per game, while also pulling down 3.7 rebounds per game, including a career-high 3.5 defensive rebounds. All of those metrics ranked outside of the top 20 in the league. Her defensive rating (104) also put her outside the top 20.

“Voting for this league is a joke,” Cloud wrote on social media in a now-deleted post, before alluding to awards voting boiling down to politics in another post. She called it “one hell of a thing.”

“Cause y’all really f–ing playing with me,” she finished.

In a now-deleted tweet, Natasha Cloud called out WNBA awards voting.

While Cloud did make the all-defensive first team in 2022, she called out WNBA awards voting in 2021, when she also was left off the all-defensive teams. In 2022, she averaged 3.1 defensive rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.3 blocks, and in 2021, she averaged 3.2 defensive rebounds, a career-high 1.4 steals and 0.1 blocks.

Mystics head coach Eric Thibault also weighed in on the 2023 WNBA awards on social media, congratulating Sykes for her “well-deserved” selection to the all-defensive first team but questioning Cloud’s absence, which he called “hard to understand.”

“Removing positions for the All-Defense teams is mostly to blame,” he wrote. “Stats are how people largely vote on/explain these awards, and that means steals, blocks, and rebounds. Two of those three immediately skew towards bigs.

“I don’t think we’re going to see many guards on All-D teams going forward unless they are at the top in steals, like (Sykes) and Canada. … All that to say, there aren’t 10 players better at the craft of playing defense than (Cloud).”

Natasha Cloud may have been talking a lot before the Mystics Game 2 matchup with the Liberty, but she backed it up with a record-breaking performance.

Before the game, Cloud said that Sabrina Ionescu would be in for a “rude awakening” in Game 2. She held Ionescu to just 11 points, a 36.4 percent field goal percentage and just 33.3 percent from three-point range.

“She backed it up,” Mystics coach Eric Thibault said. “It was probably one of the best games of her career.”

“I was going to be a villain and was going to be a dog tonight,” Cloud said postgame. “And I was going to stay on Sabrina for as much as I could. It is what it is. I also want to establish myself. I am a first-team all-defense. I don’t get the credit.”

And for all of the talk, Cloud still holds a lot of respect for Ionescu. The two hugged it out on the court postgame.

“I know I talk s–t, I know I was in Sabrina’s stuff and took a few hard fouls,” she said. “Even though I take that villain role in the game, I have a lot of respect for who Sabrina is, what she is to our league, who she is as a player. Iron sharpens iron, and that’s what I said to her.

“I really do respect her as a player, enough that I had to make her my primary focus in Game 2. But I just wanted to make sure I said that because everyone loves [WNBA] beef. But I talked my s–t and I had to come in and cash that deposit that I made.”

For all of her defensive feats, Cloud was just as good offensively to the point that the Barclays Center crowd cheered her on her way off the court. Her performance caught the eyes of many, including LeBron James.

She had 33 points, six rebounds, nine assists and four steals. In doing so, she became the first player in WNBA playoff history to have 30+ points, 5+ assists, 5+ rebounds and 4+ steals in a game. She also is the first player in WNBA playoffs history to have at least 33 points, nine assists and six rebounds in a game.

Only three other players – Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray – have ever put up those numbers in a WNBA game. And none had more than one steal in those games, which came in the regular season.

“I’ve been in D.C. for eight years,” Cloud said. “This is the only team that looked at me coming out of college. This is the only coaching staff that believed in me. I went through a lot of growing pains throughout my career. To be where I am today, I’m really proud, and I know the young version of myself would be proud.”

Natasha Cloud is calling out the inappropriate behavior she experienced from a WNBA fan outside of the Phoenix Mercury’s arena.

Following the Washington Mystics’ 100-77 win, Cloud walked outside the arena and was accosted by a fan. She described the interaction in a series of posts on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“I have no issue taking pictures with or signing anything for fans,” Cloud wrote. But what she experienced as she left Footprint Center was “too much.”

The fan “demanded” an autograph, then called out the Mystics guard for the long wait, “as if she was irritated I just played a game,” Cloud wrote. After that, Cloud was “inappropriately grabbed and aggressively spun by that same fan” while taking a photo.

“We are human beings bro. And entitlement and aggressiveness towards us is unacceptable,” Cloud concluded. “I never say no to fans. I don’t want to start to for my own protection. So let’s start showing all of us some respect.”

With injured players making their returns to the court, the Washington Mystics look like a completely different team compared to just weeks ago.

For the first time since early June, Washington has a healthy roster. Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin, who both missed significant time with injuries, are back on the court. And in Tuesday’s 83-72 win over the Lynx, not a single name was listed on the injury report.

“It was just a really dope moment,” Natasha Cloud told the Washington Post. “We’ve been through f—ing hell.

“It was a rough month and a half [of] playing down numbers, playing crazy lineups, having to adjust in a lot of minutes. So just to have everyone back [when] we’re making this playoff push and we’re really starting to peak and putting some wins together, it’s like the sweetest moment of the season for me right now.”

Kristi Toliver also made her return Tuesday, playing for the first time since June 16 after suffering from plantar fasciitis. And while Toliver, Delle Donne, Austin and Ariel Atkins remain on minute restrictions, it’s a step in the right direction.

With Tuesday’s win, the Mystics leapfrogged the Lynx into the fifth playoff spot. The Mystics (17-18) now hold a half-game lead on Minnesota and Atlanta with five games left in the regular season.

“It’s huge,” Brittney Sykes said of the win. “No, seriously, it is really big. We don’t want to get too caught up in looking ahead or thinking about, ‘Oh, well, if these teams win, if we win it, if we lose, they lose’ — it’s literally controlling our controllables.”

Of course, the team still has to juggle its returning players and monitor their progress. But the Mystics could be coming together at just the right time.

“It was good to have options,” head coach Eric Thibault said. “It feels a little choppy yet, kind of because I’m putting people in and yanking them out. We didn’t get a great rhythm, but we made some shots. Made some shots late in the clock, which was probably the difference in the game. We’ve been on the wrong end of a couple of those. We kept defending. I don’t know if we win this game earlier in the season.”

The Dallas Wings’ loss Sunday to the Chicago Sky featured two ejections and a fight during a chippy WNBA weekend, one which has resulted in one suspension and seven fines for players.

Wings star Arike Ogunbowale, one of the players ejected Sunday, gave voice afterward to a question that has echoed across the league this season: What is going on with the referees?

Ogunbowale received her second ejection of the season for making unnecessary contact with an official with 52 seconds left in the game. The 26-year-old guard’s shoulder knocked against the referee’s shoulder, which led to the technical foul and ejection.

“[The referee] was looking for something. I just watched it back a million times,” Ogunbowale said after the game. “I don’t know what’s going on this year with the refs but that was the worst call I’ve ever seen in my life.”

While Ogunbowale avoided a suspension, she did receive a fine for her contact with the official and for her postgame comments. Sky forward Ruthy Hebard received a one-game suspension and a fine for leaving the bench area during an on-court altercation earlier in the game, and her teammate Courtney Williams received a fine for doing the same.

The WNBA also handed out punishments for an altercation during Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Sparks and Washington Mystics. Los Angeles’ Layshia Clarendon and Washington’s Ariel Atkins, Brittney Sykes and Shakira Austin all received fines.

Mystics players Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud both have expressed frustration with WNBA officiating this season. In May, Delle Donne criticized the referees for treating her “like a rookie with calls.” In July, Cloud had even harsher words for the referees.

“I don’t care what pipeline refs we have coming through. I don’t care,” she said. “We have to do our job every single night. You need to do yours. This is bull—t. This is f–king bull–t.”

In June, Atlanta Dream coach Tanisha Wright questioned the officiating in one of her team’s games, particularly a flagrant-one call on New York Liberty guard Stefanie Dolson that Wright believes warranted a flagrant-two and an ejection.

“We’re expected to play at a high level every single night… The officials need to be able to rise to that same occasion. They should be held to that same standard,” Wright said. “They’re going to fine me for this, but I’m challenging them to raise their standards… Officiating needs to get better, period.”

Also in June, Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd — after scoring a career-high 41 points — took time to call out officiating issues.

“Protect the players,” Loyd said. “It’s not just us. Every single team has said something about the refs. That tells you that something is going wrong in that department. You expect high-level players, we expect high-level refs. We’re not getting that every single night.”

Natasha Cloud is fed up with WNBA officiating.

Following the Washington Mystics’ 97-92 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Wednesday, Cloud called out the referees in no uncertain terms. The Mystics “do not get calls,” she said. She also noted that she did not care about a potential fine, saying: “I’m going to get my money’s worth.”

“I don’t care what pipeline refs we have coming through. I don’t care,” she told the Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland. “We have to do our job every single night. You need to do yours. This is bull—t. This is f–king bull–t.”

The Mystics were cited for 18 personal fouls, resulting in 23 free throws shot by the Lynx, of which they made 19. Meanwhile, the Lynx were called for just eight fouls, and the Mystics went 4-of-4 on their free throws.

“This is crazy. Can’t even do our jobs and have an even game,” Cloud continued. “Four to f–king 24. We shot four free throws for 40 minutes. Four free throws. … It’s real. And the Washington Mystics are tired of not getting f–king calls.”

As the final score showed, the Mystics and the Lynx played a close game, so the free throw discrepancy affected the game’s result. And this is not the first time this season that a Mystics player has called out officiating issues

Elena Delle Donne, who missed the majority of the past three seasons with injuries, called out WNBA referees in May, saying that she is being treated “like a rookie.” Delle Donne has been out since July 9 with an ankle injury.

“I’m just going to say it,” Delle Donne said. “I’m so sick of being treated like a rookie with calls. If I get fined — whatever. It’s unbelievable. I’ve been through too many back surgeries to — whatever.

“I just keep attacking, in the end I hope that because I can elevate and jump over people, you can see that my arm is getting hit. I just keep attacking and hoping that it’ll change. Hopefully it’ll change next game, but there’s really nothing you can do in those moments.”

Natasha Cloud knows some people haven’t yet woken up to what’s possible for the Washington Mystics this year.

“Y’all can keep sleeping (on us),” the five-foot-nine guard said after the Mystics defeated the New York Liberty, 80-64, to open the 2023 WNBA season.

“We’re confident in what we have in this locker room and you can continue to talk about the super hero teams. But we know who we are and we know what we bring every single night.”

While the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces made huge offseason moves, the Mystics’ path to the start of the WNBA season was more subtle. Elena Delle Donne, who has dealt with a back injury for three straight seasons, says she is as strong as she’s ever been. And she looked it on Friday night, recording 13 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals against the Liberty. Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Kristi Toliver also added double-digit points.

While Liberty fans might have been surprised by the result, Delle Donne wasn’t.

“It’s what we’ve been doing in training camp. And we don’t care about the outside noise,” the two-time WNBA MVP said. “We don’t care about the storylines. It’s not going to change how we show up every single day, take care of one another and get the work we need to get done each day.”

As for the New York “super hero” team?

“This was a huge lesson for us,” Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot said.

“We can learn a lot from this,” echoed Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “The team with the most chemistry certainly won tonight. We were not very good, and they were very good.”

As WNBA training camp continues, so do roster cuts, which led to Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud highlighting the need for expansion.

“We need more teams,” she wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “These players deserve to be on a roster. It really kills me.”

Evina Westbrook and Alisia Jenkins were waived from the Mystics’ roster on Sunday. Westbrook played six games for Washington last season, averaging 3.3 points per game. Jenkins, meanwhile, was signed to a training camp contract in February.

Of course, WNBA expansion has been a hot-button issue for the past few years as teams have continued to feel the squeeze of a 12-player roster. While the 12-team league is looking into – and is narrowing down possible locations for – expansion, there hasn’t been much movement since the end of the 2022 season.

Meanwhile, the NWSL has capitalized on the growth of women’s sports with a two-team expansion set for 2024 and another team to be added in 2025 or 2026. They’ve also added three teams in the last four years, with both Angel City FC and San Diego setting league records in the last year.

Chicago Sky head coach and general manager James Wade told the Chicago Sun-Times that he’s postponed roster cuts as long as he can.

“You want to procrastinate because you hate to see people go,” Wade said. “I wouldn’t see [putting off making my first cuts] going past tomorrow. I want to get down to 13 for Toronto. I don’t want to take 15 players [to the last preseason game].

“It’s not a birthright; it’s a privilege,” he continued. “You have to work hard to be one of the 144 best players. It doesn’t mean you’re not a great player because you didn’t make it in the WNBA. It just means you have work to do, and that’s OK. It’s tough to play in the WNBA. Some of your favorite college players can’t make it in the WNBA.”

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has addressed expansion plans, including at the WNBA draft in April. But every time, the message remains the same: soon, but not yet.

Engelbert told Sports Business Journal in early May that the league began with a list of 100 potential cities for expansion that has since been narrowed down to 20, according to The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch. That number is up from the 12 cities she said remained on the shortlist last June.

“We are not in a rush,” Engelbert said in February.

And while she had said last year that she hoped to have two new franchises start as soon as 2024, that timeline has been pushed back to 2025 at the earliest, and talks have shifted to just one new team beginning play.

WNBA roster cuts can affect even some of the league’s best. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Emily Engslter, was cut by the Fever. She’s since been picked up by the Mystics, but the news was still a stark reminder of the state of the league.

“When you see a loved one get waived, that’s when it really hits you,” Indiana’s NaLyssa Smith said. “It shows how hard it is to make it in the league. [Players] have conversations about it. It’s very unfortunate for those who do get waived because they’re talented, and we’re so young.

“I’m definitely looking forward to expansion.”

As the second season of Athletes Unlimited basketball begins, its players want to set the record straight: AU is not just a feeder for the WNBA.

Sydney Colson serves as the chair of the player executive committee for Athletes Unlimited and also plays for the Las Vegas Aces. And ahead of AU’s opening night Thursday, the 33-year-old guard pushed back at the notion that the league could become the WNBA’s version of the NBA G League.

“The WNBA and AU are completely separate,” she said Tuesday. “By no means are we trying to make this a G League. It’s not a mini WNBA.”

While there is some crossover between the two leagues, as a number of players have opted to join Athletes Unlimited during the WNBA offseason, Colson said the goal is to expand the player pool.

“This is to give more women opportunities to play in the States, not just the same women,” she said. “It’s very important to us as a [committee] to not turn this into just another league for WNBA players to come in and overtake.

“There are a lot of capable overseas athletes who aren’t afforded the opportunity to come and play in the WNBA, to ever get on a training camp roster, to be on a team. So for us, it is very important to our core of this league to keep it that way and to always give more people opportunities.”

That doesn’t mean AU doesn’t have any support from the WNBA. This year’s hoops season will be streamed on WNBA League Pass, which Colson called a “big deal” that “speaks to the support of this league.”

But most importantly, the talent this year has grown, as evidenced by the league’s scrimmages last week.

“We just have way more depth in our talent from top to bottom,” Colson said.

The second season of Athletes Unlimited basketball will feature Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, Atlanta Dream guard Allisha Gray, Chicago Sky newcomers Isabelle Harrison and Courtney Williams and more star power.