The Washington Mystics' season of the unexpected came to a less-than-surprising end on the road Wednesday night, when they lost the decisive third game of their WNBA playoffs series to the Connecticut Sun.
The mere fact that the Mystics made it that far was stunning. They did it with the player who had become the face of the franchise -- three-time all-star Chamique Holdsclaw -- on the injured list for the final month of the season. They did it with a rookie, first-round draft pick Alana Beard, and a first-year coach, Michael Adams, leading the way. And they did it on the strength of a late five-game winning streak that boosted them from last place to the playoffs.
Now the team could be facing something of an identity crisis.
For the past six years, the club has orbited around Holdsclaw, a former Olympian who averaged 19 points and 8.3 rebounds. Forced out of the lineup by a medical condition that she has declined to reveal, Holdsclaw's future with the club is unsettled.
There were reports earlier in the season of a rift between Holdsclaw and Adams. Franchise executives have already said publicly that Adams will be back next year, but neither they nor Holdsclaw's agent will comment on whether she plans to return.
"She's under contract," Adams said yesterday. "Other than that I have no comment."
To understand how big of a role Holdsclaw, 27, has played for Washington since 1999, consider that she holds the club records for scoring (2,960 points), rebounding (1,459), steals (221) and has played 162 games as a Mystic, second only to forward Murriel Page (225).
Many around the WNBA expected the Mystics to collapse when Holdsclaw left the team, but Beard thrived in her absence thanks to Adams's overhauled offensive system -- one built around finding open shooters and not solely around Holdsclaw.
Beard averaged 13 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1 blocked shot and was runner-up behind Diana Taurasi for WNBA rookie of the year. In the Mystics' 76-56 defeat Wednesday at Connecticut, Beard scored 22 points.
Asked if the Mystics could use a reliable secondary scoring option to Beard, Adams said "no." Whether that meant the team planned to bring Holdsclaw back is unclear. What is more certain, however, is that Beard and veteran forward Chasity Melvin established themselves as offensive threats.
Said Adams: "I think Alana and Chasity are players that can get it done for us."