- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

There is a good possibility that the Washington Mystics will not get the ultimate reward for finishing the season in last place.

Unlike during the WNBA's first five years, the league next year will use a draft lottery instead of handing the top pick to the worst team.

The Mystics (10-22) finished in a four-way tie for the worst record with the Detroit Shock, Indiana Fever and Seattle Storm. That means those three other teams have the same odds as the Mystics of getting the top pick next spring in what is looking like a thin draft.

After going 3-27 in their inaugural season in 1998, the Mystics were given the top pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft, which they used on Chamique Holdsclaw. The forward from Tennessee has been an All-Star in each of her three seasons in the league. But the Mystics need a bit of luck to get the first pick again.

Here's how the draft lottery works. The eight teams that did not make the playoffs are assigned Nos. 1 through 8 based on final records. No. 8 gets eight pingpong balls, No. 7 gets seven and so on, until the top-seeded team is allocated just one ball.

After the top three picks are drawn, the team with the worst record not among the top three automatically gets slotted fourth. The remaining teams are assigned a draft position based on their records.

With four 10-22 teams, it's unknown how the league will determine the tie-break procedure to seed Nos. 5 through 8.

Sue Bird, Connecticut's multi-talented point guard, is everybody's consensus top pick. The best players after the 5-foot-9 Bird are 6-5 Tennessee center Michelle Snow, who dunked in a game last season during a Christmas tournament in Hawaii and 6-foot North Carolina guard Nikki Teasley, a product of St. John's Prospect Hall High School in Frederick, Md., who sat out last season.

"We just need somebody to fill in," Mystics coach Tom Maher said. "We could use an extra point guard and an extra center. To get somebody 6-foot-5 with the ability to score in the block would be good, too."

After suffering through an unbearable first season, Maher said he will create an offseason developmental program to teach his team the fundamentals of the game.

"There are things we have to work on," Maher said. "It was obvious, look at what happened."

As for purging the roster, Maher said he won't make any personnel decisions until he completes a lengthy evaluation.

Some inside the organization believe it would be like starting over if Maher overhauled the roster. A massive roster shakeup is the only thing this franchise has not tried.

Maher is in a precarious position. Does he keep the bulk of a team that finished last and shot 38.6 percent from the floor, 28 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 66.1 percent from the free throw line? Or does he gamble and try to remake the Mystics?

"We need some things, but I don't necessarily think we need to reinvent the wheel," Maher said.

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