Editor's note: Before the 2006 season tips off, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 14 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at Washington.
Did offseason changes make the team better, the same or worse?
The Mystics made some really good picks in the draft. Using the eighth pick on Miami's all-time leading scorer, 5-foot-10 guard/forward Tamara James, was a great decision. As for 19th overall pick Nikki Blue, I really like her game and what she was able to do at UCLA. This past season, the 5-6 point guard helped lead the Bruins back to the NCAA Tournament and became the fifth woman to earn first-team All-Pac-10 honors for four straight seasons.
But Washington made some really interesting trades. For starters, Temeka Johnson was traded away for Nikki Teasley -- who the Mystics passed over when they had the Nos. 3 and 4 overall picks in the 2002 draft (Teasley went fifth to Portland). Both are talented playmakers, but Johnson's coming off a Rookie of the Year season while Teasley played through plantar fasciitis in both feet last summer (though she says she's feeling much better now). And in addition to trading their first-round picks, the Mystics also gave the Sparks another starter, Murriel Page, in the deal.
Crystal Robinson is one of the game's top 3-point shooters, but, while playing with a broken finger on her shooting hand, she posted the worst averages of her career in 2005 as her scoring dipped nearly five points to 7.3 per game and both her field-goal and 3-point percentages dropped about 7 points. Still, coach Richie Adubato, who coached Robinson while they were both in New York, obviously has a comfortability with the veteran small forward, who is expected to start.
Latasha Byears is a big question mark. The former Sparks player has been embroiled in controversy for the past three years. L.A. cut her five days after a June 2003 party at which she and three men allegedly assaulted one of Byears' former teammates. No charges were filed, and in November 2004, Byears filed a wrongful termination suit, claiming sexual orientation and gender discrimination led to her dismissal. In February, the Sparks and Byears settled the lawsuit, though terms were never released.
All that aside, the main question is whether Byears can still be as effective as she was when she helped the Sparks win two WNBA titles. She was always known as a specialist, but can she still rebound? -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
What's the best-case scenario for the team? Worst-case?
Best-case: The franchise finally finds stability in its second year under longtime WNBA coach Richie Adubato. After some ups and down in adjusting to life as the unquestioned No. 1 option last season, Alana Beard emerges as an even more mature version of the player who carried the Mystics on her back during the 2004 stretch run. New arrival Nikki Teasley provides the same distribution skills as Temeka Johnson but gives the Mystics more offense and better size on defense out of the point guard position. DeLisha Milton-Jones and Chasity Melvin continue forming one of the league's most underrated frontcourts, while Crystal Robinson holds down the wing and Latasha Byears shows no rust as a key reserve.
Worst-case: Teasley looks like the player whose assist-turnover ratio plummeted as she battled injuries in Los Angeles last season, and the battle for backup minutes between Rita Williams and Nikki Blue doesn't produce a clear alternative. Robinson, 32, starts showing signs of age and Milton-Jones, 31, shows signs of wear and tear from an ACL injury and other knee woes that prematurely ended her 2004 season. And Beard, asked to do too much on the offensive end, again struggles with shot selection after shooting just 38 percent from the field last season. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
As the WNBA celebrates its 10-year anniversary, what does this franchise
mean to the league?
The Mystics mean potential. Sure, about 27 coaches have gone through the franchise's doors. There has been very little consistency. But with a very committed and involved owner, plus many fans who've proven they'll show up even if things look dim, Washington appears stable and able to grow still more. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel