- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Washington Mystics’ offseason of mayhem is almost over.

The franchise lost its coach, superstar and another of its most popular players. The revolving door that saw coach Michael Adams, cornerstone Chamique Holdsclaw and guard Stacey Dales-Schuman exit also let in coach Richie Adubato, DeLisha Milton-Jones and a first-round draft pick in point guard Temeka Johnson.

The renovated Mystics open their eighth season Saturday in Charlotte.

“Times change and you have to move on,” said guard Alana Beard, now the face of the franchise in her second season. “What would this world be without change?”

Stability is something the Mystics have never known.

Washington begins the 2005 season with its eighth coach, and it should come as little surprise that some publications have picked the Mystics to finish last in the six-team Eastern Division. The gloomy outlook comes though the team won seven of 11 games without Holdsclaw at the end of last season and made the playoffs with a 17-17 record.

In the offseason the Mystics signed sharpshooting free agent Charlotte Smith-Taylor from the Charlotte Sting and traded a first-round pick — which came from the Los Angeles Sparks with Milton-Jones in exchange for the disgruntled Holdsclaw — to the Detroit Shock for 6-foot-5 center Iciss Tillis.

“We have a lot of good pieces,” said Adubato, a former NBA coach who spent the past five seasons coaching the New York Liberty. “We just have to see how fast we can put it together.”

Adubato replaced Adams, who left on the eve of the WNBA Draft and a week before camp opened to become an assistant on Maryland’s men’s team. Dales-Schuman retired at age 25 to become a television commentator for ESPN.

This preseason several key players have missed significant time while playing overseas or because of injuries. Beard missed both preseason games (two losses) with hamstring problems. Milton-Jones is expected to arrive today after finishing the playoffs with her Spanish team.

In addition to all the offseason changes, the organization will have to adapt to the arrival of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals, who are averaging more than 30,000 a game at RFK Stadium in their first season. Teams such as the Mystics and soccer’s D.C. United hope to keep their places in the District’s sports landscape.

“It is one more entity going after sponsorships,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management and marketing at George Washington. “In terms of tickets sales, the Mystics have been kind of stable and they have a loyal fan base. I don’t see that fan base defecting. I see it as a challenge to increase the fan base. I don’t see them being hurt too much [because] they are a pre-established entity.”

And the Mystics have not seen a dip yet.

“We haven’t had an effect as far as our individual tickets and season plans,” said Ann Nicholaides, vice president of marketing for Washington Sports & Entertainment. “I will be curious to see what will happen on those evenings when there are two games going on at the same time”

Neirotti believes future sponsorship deals could be more difficult to make once the Nationals’ new stadium opens in 2008, but she doesn’t think Holdsclaw’s departure will harm attendance because women’s sports fans aren’t as “star-struck” as men’s are.

Holdsclaw, a three-time All-Star, forced a trade after leaving the team in midseason for an undisclosed medical condition, which after the season she said was depression.

Holdsclaw, the league’s top overall pick in 1999 out of Tennessee, has never stated why she wanted out of Washington but has hinted the organization’s losing history played a part. She gave a cryptic answer during the preseason when she said, “Change is power.”

The Mystics now move on without their former superstar, who averaged 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds during her six seasons here.

“We’ll put two people in there,” Adubato said jokingly. “We’ll play six, maybe we’ll get Chamique’s numbers.”

Smith-Taylor and Beard, who averaged 13.1 points last season, will be asked to help fill part of the void. Adubato hopes a better defense, including using a full-court press, also will help offset any lack of scoring.

Any success likely will hinge on Milton-Jones, a six-year veteran who will play Holdsclaw’s power forward spot. The 30-year-old won two WNBA titles as a role player and top defender next to Lisa Leslie.

“I like the fact that she’s a three-time Olympian, that she’s an All-Star who has won championships in Europe and the WNBA,” said general manager Linda Hargrove, a Mystics assistant coach last season who replaced Judy Holland-Burton.

The Mystics feel they have more athleticism and depth than in the past. And they do have returning players in Murriel Page, Chasity Melvin, Tamicha Jackson, Nakia Sanford and Coco Miller, along with Beard.

“I think we can compete,” said Adubato, who sees parity in the Eastern Conference again this season. “It may be a little slower developing because of the new people in the picture and the changes that we made. There is going to be some growth and development in this team. We are learning about each other quickly and putting new pieces together.”

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