Breaking down the Mystics

Crystal Langhorne averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 2012, starting all 31 games. Paul Frederiksen/US Presswire

When Connecticut severed ties with coach Mike Thibault last fall, it was the good fortune that Washington needed. After finishing first in the East in 2010 but then parting with their coach and general manager, the Mystics were a combined 11-57 the past two seasons under Trudi Lacey.

Her tenure ended after a last-place finish in the East in 2012. Thibault was hired in December, and he was busy reshaping the team in the offseason. Just four players return from last season's roster: Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie, Matee Ajavon and Michelle Snow.

Thibault wants an up-tempo team that gets more offensive possessions. To that end, he brought in point guard Ivory Latta, who had the best season of her WNBA career in Tulsa in 2012. He knows she'll keep the pace fast.

Another important addition is center Kia Vaughn, who previously played four seasons in New York. She should help make the Mystics stronger inside and be a good aid to their centerpiece player, Langhorne.

What's new?

Obviously, a whole lot, including the players previously mentioned. But there are also the Mystics' draft picks: guard Tayler Hill of Ohio State and center Emma Meesseman of Belgium.

The organization and fans were very disappointed by last fall's draft lottery, but Hill might have what it takes to show them that the No. 4 pick wasn't so bad after all. Meesseman, who just turned 20, is 6-foot-4 but known for her perimeter scoring.

And while Snow is a decade-long WNBA veteran who played for the Mystics last season, the word is she is a "new" player in 2013 in terms of attitude, conditioning and commitment.

What's missing?

Gone -- we think -- is the sense of hopelessness the team drifted into over the past two seasons: That feeling nothing was going to make a difference because the Mystics were bound to find a way to lose.

Biggest challenges

Can Thibault surround Langhorne with teammates who really take advantage of all the defensive attention she gets? Will Ajavon adjust to the defensive-stopper role that she might be expected to play? Will Latta have as good a season as an on-court leader as she did last summer? Will Hill adapt fairly quickly to the greater physicality of guards in the WNBA?

Playoff prospects

Making the postseason would take a huge turnaround after single-digit victory totals each of the past two seasons, but Thibault is energized after being let go by Connecticut, and his excitement about this new endeavor seems to be translating to the players. If the Mystics can play the way that Thibault wants, they could finish in the top four in the conference.