The retooling Washington Mystics are coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons and some are reticent to make anything but the mildest positive declarations regarding the upcoming campaign.
"I really think I can say it can't get any worse than it did last year," forward Monique Currie said, reflecting on the Mystics' 5-29 record. Of course, a year ago, similar rock-bottom statements were made following a six-win season — then things got worse.
Hoping to get the franchise turned around, the Mystics replaced coach and general manager Trudi Lacey with former Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault. The second-winningest coach in WNBA history, Thibault amassed a 206-134 record in 10 seasons at Connecticut. In 2012, he directed the Sun to the Eastern Conference finals before being let go in November.
Hired by Washington one month later, Thibault has begun overhauling the roster.
Only four players are expected back from a squad that finished last in scoring — and wins. Washington also ranked near the bottom in several other categories including rebounding and 3-point shooting.
Currie and leading scorer Crystal Langhorne are among the few holdovers from not only last season's woes, but also the high's felt during Washington's 2010 Eastern Conference regular season title. The D.C. area native appreciates the latest round of changes, but knows turnaround talk is cheap.
"We do this every year," Currie said. "We have our media day. We're optimistic about our season. We say great things, but at this point, we just have to go out there and prove things.
"We have a new coach, a proven winner. You can check his record. We all know the success that he's had. Already I can feel the difference...I'm hoping it will continue to feel that way."
The Mystics open the regular season on May 27 at Tulsa, which is where point guard Ivory Latta played last season. Wanting to improve Washington's offensive flow and vigor on both ends of the court, Thibault signed the seasoned free agent this offseason and traded with the New York Liberty for center Kia Vaughn.
"Need to change the spirit in the locker room. Thought we had to go get some high-energy players," said the 62-year-old coach, who went 5-0 against Washington last season.
The team's perimeter shooting woes factored into drafting Ohio State guard Tayler Hill with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Washington's overhauled roster will likely include several first-year players, including 20-year-old Belgium forward Emma Meesseman.
"You have to find people that are used to doing it, who want to do it, who will push their teammates to do it with them," Thibault said of upping the team's energy levels. "I think you have people here who want to do that, but it can't just be four people. We need eight, nine, 10 people capable of doing that. I think we're headed in that direction."
Anything beats the last two seasons.
"It was rough," Langhorne said. "Before the last two years, we were first in the East. We had some changes...it can change again."