- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Lindsey Harding must have felt pretty close to a WNBA title in Washington in 2010 when the Mystics finished first in the Eastern Conference. Closer, to be sure in the past two years at Atlanta, playing in the WNBA Finals against Minnesota in 2011.
Is she closer still in 2013, now that she's the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Sparks?
"Definitely. They are young, there is great energy and they are going to be around for a while, you know?" Harding said. "I'm one of the oldest players out there."
Harding was signed by the Sparks in February as a free agent and immediately tagged by coach Carol Ross as the starting point guard.
Ross said Monday that it was Harding's experience, and her defense, that appealed most.
"She's going to bring a little bit more of a defensive presence on the perimeter," Ross said of the 2010 All-Star. "She brings speed to the game at both ends of the court and great experience and leadership.
"So, really, it was her speed and quickness, with hopefully a little defense sprinkled in."
This is another new team -- her fourth in a seven-year WNBA career -- but a familiar place for Harding. She played under Ross when the coach was an assistant in Atlanta. And Harding surely got an endorsement from former Duke and Mystics teammate Alana Beard, who will share a backcourt with Harding this season.
Harding even has a connection with second-year star Nneka Ogwumike; they played at the same high school for the same coach half a decade apart.
"It is comfortable," Harding said. "I remember when I first got to D.C. and Atlanta and you know people, but you really don't know them. Here, I really know people."
Even though they spent just one season together in Atlanta, Harding said she "loves" Ross' style and feels like she has a good sense of what her coach wants from her.
"I have played for a lot of great coaches, but she seems to be able to get the best from me," Harding said. "So far, so good. I think like any team, we are just trying to get our chemistry down."
The Sparks would like to think they were one Harding short of a title last season, using Kristi Toliver at the point even as she proved to be most valuable as a scorer.
Moving Toliver out to the 2 spot allows her to spread her wings as a shooter and draw some more defense away from Candace Parker and Ogwumike in the paint. It also gives Los Angeles a ball distributor and another good offensive player on the floor, with Harding capable of doing her own damage.
Harding started 65 of 68 games in Atlanta, averaging 12.3 points and 4.5 assists last season for the Dream. She was a scorer, a great defender, a steady presence.
In her seventh professional season, she is now a seasoned veteran, defining her career in some way other than being the best point guard ever to play Duke women's basketball.
Harding said she has no regrets about what has been a nomadic WNBA résumé. She was the No. 1 overall pick by Phoenix back in 2007, but was traded to Minnesota before the season began. She then moved to Washington before being traded to Atlanta and now west to Los Angeles, not far from where she lived as a young child when her family spent three years in Simi Valley.
"I have learned something from every experience," Harding said. "I think everybody would love to be drafted by somebody and play in that place for their whole career, but the fact that I have moved around -- every situation I've been in has made me a better player."
Now Harding wants to help push Los Angeles past last season's success and closer to a title.
"I do think talent wins out and we definitely have talent," Harding said. "But I think heart and effort play a big role in that and we need to have that on a consistent basis. I feel like if we do that, we can be amazing."
For as successful as Los Angeles was last season without a true point guard, imagine how solid the Sparks might be now with Lindsey Harding running the team.