In his first season as coach of the Washington Mystics, Michael Adams has turned WNBA stars into role players and career starters into bench warmers. He has taken former team cornerstones and stuffed them into forgotten corners of the Mystics' offense.

He has made players so desperate for minutes that they've cried out of frustration and cursed out of anger.

"There have been times," forward Chasity Melvin said, "when this whole team seemed ready to explode. We could have combusted."

Instead, they've adjusted.

More important than leading the Mystics (9-9) to a rare .500 record, Adams has deftly balanced egos and attitudes like a veteran. On the verge of a crucial three-game West Coast trip that starts tonight in Seattle at 10 and continues Sunday night in Sacramento, the sometimes attitudinal Mystics seem calm and steady.

Players who fought over minutes earlier this season are now talking community, and the Mystics have won four of five because of it.

"We've all put aside what we want -- the minutes, the points, everything else," Melvin said. "Coach has been preaching team goals, and we've bought into that."

It was a tough sell. Adams joined a Mystics team stocked with perennial stars. Chamique Holdsclaw, perhaps the WNBA's best player, led the Mystics in scoring four consecutive seasons, making her the team's obvious go-to player.

Behind her, though, Adams saw a playing-time puzzle. Stacey Dales-Schuman and Coco Miller had grown accustomed to being the Mystics' second and third options.

"It's a great situation to have so many capable players," Adams said. "But that can be difficult, too. You can't have five superstars, and sometimes that causes issues."

First-round pick Alana Beard, Melvin and Tamicha Jackson all have complained about playing time this season. After an early loss, Beard left the locker room in tears. Melvin broke down an evening earlier; two games in, she griped about not starting.

Miller, Melvin and Jackson have come off the bench at various times this season, something they'd never done with much regularity. "We're in a tough situation," Miller said. "But I think coach has handled it perfectly."

His solution is simple: Communicate with players and make sure the starting lineup is always penetrable. Adams has changed starters six times this season, giving his players the idea that they always have a chance to start. When he takes a player out of the starting lineup, as he did with Jackson earlier this season, Adams makes sure to talk it over.

"Basically, he let me know that he needed me no matter what," said Jackson, who is starting again after playing as a reserve despite leading Phoenix in minutes last season. "He just kind of sat me down and explained the situation. He said, 'You know what? We all just need to forget about our own issues and put the team first.' "