WASHINGTON - While playing high school ball in the D.C. suburbs in the late 1990s, Kara Lawson naturally followed the Washington Mystics.
Now she's finally playing for her hometown team, which stayed pretty much stuck in a time warp during her college days at Tennessee, during her subsequent 11 WNBA seasons with the Sacramento Monarchs and Connecticut Sun, during her trip to the 2008 Olympics to win a gold medal, and during her countless production meetings as an ESPN analyst.
Her return is well-timed. Perhaps the Mystics have finally steadied themselves.
Under 2013 WNBA Coach Of The Year Mike Thibault, the Mystics managed a .500 record last season and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The franchise still has only one playoff series win in its history -- in 2002 -- but Thibault has instilled a sense of stability to a club that had 12 head coaches in its first 15 seasons.
Now he wants more. Also the general manager, he not only traded for Lawson but also sent popular forward Crystal Langhorne to the Seattle Storm for Tianna Hawkins and Bria Hartley. He also drafted Stefanie Dolson at No. 6 overall. Add in Taylor Hill, who will miss the first part of the season while pregnant, and the Mystics have a roster with four top-seven picks from the last two drafts.
One of those in charge of helping corral all that youthful enthusiasm will be Lawson, whose leadership will be just as important as her 3-point shooting.
"We have a young team," Lawson said. "But we have a lot of talent, so it's trying to get used to each other as quickly as possible. The chemistry on the court is going to be really important because we have a short season. We don't have 15, 20 games to figure it out."
Here are five things to watch as the Mystics prepare for Friday's opener against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx:
UCONN DO IT: Dolson and Hartley certainly know how to win, having helped the Connecticut Huskies win yet another NCAA title shortly before they were selected in last month's draft. "They haven't lost too many games in their lifetime," Thibault said, "so that'll be a great thing."
LAWSON'S TWILIGHT: At 33, Lawson is on the backside of her career and played a career-low nine games in an injury-plagued 2013, but she can still shoot. She made 22 of 48 3-point attempts last year.
FAMILIAR FACES: The top returning veterans are Ivory Latta (13.9 points per game), Monique Currie (10.5 points, 5.0 rebounds) and Kia Vaughn (6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds).
A PLEA FOR SUPPORT: Fans did not respond well to the Mystics' resurgence last season, with attendance dropping six percent to 7,838 per game. The state of the team's popularity is best summarized by the title of a recent blog post from owner Ted Leonsis: "Please consider coming out to Mystics games this season."
EVERY FOUR YEARS: The Mystics' only winning records in franchise history came in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Given that pattern, they're due to win again in 2014.