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Coach Mike Thibault cautions that Mystics need time to jell

Elena Delle Donne, who has averaged 20.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in her WNBA career, gives the Mystics the versatility to play a lot of different lineups. Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Washington coach Mike Thibault has been on the other side of this situation before, so it had to be kind of a relief when the tables were turned during this WNBA offseason.

Thibault was coach at Connecticut when two prominent players for the Sun wanted to go "home" -- Katie Douglas to Indiana and Lindsay Whalen to Minnesota. Thibault and the Sun front office weren't looking to trade either one, but did so at least in part to help fulfill the players' wishes.

It worked out for both. Douglas, who went to Indiana in 2008, won a WNBA title in 2012 with the Fever. Whalen, who went to Minnesota in 2010, has won three titles with the Lynx and is still playing for them. The Whalen trade, in particular, worked for Connecticut, too, as the Sun got 2010 No. 1 draft pick Tina Charles.

Thibault hopes that foreshadows what could happen for his Mystics. This time, Washington was the destination team -- that's something we haven't seen very often -- for a superstar player who pushed for a trade.

Elena Delle Donne didn't grow up in Washington, D.C., as Douglas did in Indianapolis and Whalen did about an hour outside of Minneapolis. But close enough: The Mystics are only about two hours from Delle Donne's native Wilmington, Delaware.

After four seasons in Chicago -- she was drafted No. 2 by the Sky in 2013 and won the MVP award in 2015 -- Delle Donne wanted to be near home and get a fresh start with a new coach and organization.

In early February, the Mystics officially acquired Delle Donne in exchange for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, with which the Sky took South Carolina center Alaina Coates.

Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 forward/guard, wasn't the only high-profile player who saw the Mystics as a great landing spot, though. So did guard Kristi Toliver, a Virginia native who won a national championship with Maryland in 2006 and a WNBA title last year with Los Angeles. Toliver was an unrestricted free agent, signing with the Mystics just a few days after the Delle Donne trade.

The Mystics also made some salary moves by dealing guard Bria Hartley and center Kia Vaughn to New York in a three-team trade that included Seattle. (The Mystics got the No. 6 draft pick out of that, and chose Maryland guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.)

With all that, Washington has become one of the more intriguing teams for the 2017 season. The Mystics, who were 13-21 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since Thibault took over as coach prior to the 2013 season, should be in playoff contention again.

But Thibault isn't being overly cautious when he says patience is required. He's being realistic. Toliver and Emma Meesseman are among the late arrivals to training camp; neither they nor Delle Donne (out with what was described as a "minor" ailment) played in Monday's exhibition loss to Minnesota. And Meesseman -- who averaged 15.2 PPG last season -- will be gone the end of May and most, if not all, of June playing with the Belgian national team in the European championships.

"We are going to be a work in progress. Anybody who thinks that all of the things we did are immediately going to click -- that's not going to happen. ... But the end product could be pretty good."

Mystics coach Mike Thibault

"We are going to be a work in progress," Thibault said. "Anybody who thinks that all of the things we did are immediately going to click -- that's not going to happen.

"We're going to be getting used to each other over the first month to two months. But the end product could be pretty good, once we get the time together."

Delle Donne, who has averaged 20.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in her WNBA career, brings the kind of do-it-all-well quality that Thibault covets for his team as a whole. Adding her is a key part of making the Mystics a unit that can play rather differently, depending on the lineups, while still being as effective.

"That was by design," Thibault said. "We can play a big lineup, or go with a smaller group. We have the versatility we've been looking for.

"You're going to play different types of teams, and it allows you to try to take advantage of mismatches or potential weaknesses. I look at the NBA side, and watch how some teams there have gone through an evolution and played different kinds of lineups."

Guard Tayler Hill (15.4 PPG) led the Mystics in scoring last season. She returns for what will be her fifth year overall in the WNBA, and fourth full season after missing most of 2014 while she was pregnant. Thibault said she has reached the level that the Mystics were hoping for when they picked her No. 4 overall -- two spots behind Delle Donne -- in the 2013 draft.

"Honestly, we had to see if she would figure it out -- and she has," Thibault said. "There are things she can improve. But she's become consistent enough in certain areas. That has to do with work ethic and being willing to put in the time."

Hill said that while she knows a lot of observers are expecting Washington this year to be a more dynamic offensive team -- the Mystics' 80.7 PPG average last season was 10th of the league's 12 teams -- she thinks they can be much improved on the other side of the court as well.

"We have been so focused on defense," Hill said. "We know we have a lot of offensive weapons, especially with Elena and Kristi added. But we feel like we can get better at defense and boxing out, and that's what we need."

The vibe around the Mystics, then, is of excitement and promise. There might be a few rough patches. In fact, that's almost a certainty. But as Thibault said, give them some time -- plus, hopefully, good health -- and watch what happens.