Elena Delle Donne's status for the remainder of the 2021 WNBA season is in doubt because of nerve pain in her back.
Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault told reporters Thursday the six-time All-Star is experiencing problems stemming from the back surgeries that already kept her out for a majority of the year.
Delle Donne has played 52 minutes over three games in 2021, her first action since 2019 after she opted out of the shortened 2020 campaign at IMG Academy in Florida.
With one of their best players out for a significant stretch, the Mystics sit ninth in the WNBA, a half-game behind the New York Liberty for the final playoff berth. It looked like Delle Donne's return would give Washington the shot in the arm it needed to move comfortably into the top eight.
Now the 2019 WNBA champions could be in serious jeopardy of missing the postseason. They have four games left in the regular season to turn the tide, and even if they qualify for the playoffs, a Delle Donne-less Mystics may be headed for an early exit.
The concern for the 32-year-old, meanwhile, extends beyond 2021. Her long layoff and recent flare-up show how troublesome back injuries can be and illustrate there aren't always straightforward solutions to the issue.
In 2019, Delle Donne became the first WNBA player ever to join the 50/40/90 club en route to winning MVP, and her 6.19 offensive win shares were the 16th-most in a single season. Recapturing that form may not be easy.