By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2010; D05
The Washington Mystics made one of the biggest splashes in the WNBA's offseason Tuesday, when they announced the signing of all-star and two-time champion guard Katie Smith. The team hopes that the acquisition of the WNBA's third all-time leading scorer will help make the next step in the evolution from bubble team to regular playoff contender.
One of the biggest names among this year's free agents, Smith fielded offers from every team in the WNBA before selecting Washington out of a narrow pool that also included Seattle and Minnesota, where she began her career.
"With the coaching staff, the organization I feel comfortable with all of it and I know I can win here," Smith said. "The changes they've made over the last few years, they've been going in the right direction and they're just so close to reaching the top. It's something you want to be a part of and you want to keep it going."
Washington finished 16-18 in 2009 and qualified for the playoffs, showing marked improvement in the first full season under General Manager Angela Taylor and Coach Julie Plank, months after Managing Partner Sheila Johnson demanded an overhaul of the organization to make the Mystics a championship contender. Smith's willingness to choose the Mystics may signal that the team's reputation is continuing to rise.
"For free agents to be attracted to this market is almost unheard of," said guard Alana Beard, who has been the face of the Mystics' franchise during her six seasons in the league. "Nobody wanted to come to D.C. and it was tough, when you're working to accomplish something and no one wanted to be a part of it. But just having her here, there's this feeling that things will keep rolling and it will only help us move forward as an organization."
Known as a physical presence both offensively and defensively, Smith has been one of the most reliable scorers in league history during her 11-year career. With 5,446 points, an average of 15.7 per game, Smith manages to blend in with various systems to suit any team's personnel -- a trait that will serve the Mystics, who already boasted a deep backcourt.
Smith, who will turn 36 in June and said she feels strong after missing 12 games at the end of last season with a herniated disk in her lower back, can play anything from point guard to power forward. Her strength at point guard would give the Mystics a reliable option to spell Lindsey Harding, who averaged over 35 minutes per game in 2009.
"They really do have the pieces in place from top to bottom," Smith said. "The bottom line is I can't predict that we'll win more games, that we'll do this or that. But I'll compete. That's what I do, I compete. I hate to lose."