The Atlanta Dream had been trying to begin over.
After a few rocky seasons — participant suspensions, numerous losses, a revolt towards a staff proprietor — it was time to attempt one thing new.
Nothing says clear slate like constructing a brand new roster.
Atlanta saved only some gamers from final yr’s staff: Monique Billings, Aari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes and Cheyenne Parker.
One other piece fell into place when the Dream traded up for the primary decide on this yr’s draft and chosen guard Rhyne Howard from the College of Kentucky. Howard made historical past as the one former Wildcat to be chosen first general by a WNBA franchise. Regardless of the facility strikes Atlanta made to make sure Howard was part of their rebuild, she is not feeling any strain to atone for the failings of previous Atlanta groups.
“I used to be conscious of what has been happening, however we did not discuss that,” Howard stated in a telephone interview earlier this month. “We have not, and we did not even earlier than the draft as a result of it is like, it is previously now. Everybody right here is principally new, so we’re simply trying to rebuild, which we have completed to date.”
The Atlanta Dream are in playoff rivalry because the WNBA nears the All-Star break, however simply barely. They’re 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 begin below the first-time coach Tanisha Wright was promising for a franchise with fewer than 16 wins during the last two seasons.
Promising, sure, however not satisfying.
The Dream have not made it to postseason play since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 file en path to successful the Coach of the Yr Award. It seemed as if the heyday of Dream basketball may need returned.
After successful solely 4 video games as an enlargement membership in 2008, the Dream earned six consecutive postseason berths, together with three journeys to the WNBA finals.
Nonetheless, by 2019 the Dream had been once more scraping on the backside of the standings and wouldn’t win greater than eight video games in three straight seasons. There was turmoil off the courtroom as nicely.
In 2020, the Dream caught the eye of the sports activities and political worlds when the staff’s gamers publicly supported the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia who was operating for a Senate seat towards the Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who co-owned the Dream .
Then final season, the Dream suspended guard Chennedy Carter after 11 video games for “conduct detrimentally to the staff.” That Could, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford had been concerned in a struggle outdoors of a membership in Atlanta. It wasn’t till after the season, when video of the struggle surfaced, that the WNBA suspended them. None are with Atlanta now.
Neither is Loeffler, who bought the staff in February 2021 after dropping to Warnock. There are many new faces, together with Wright, Howard and Common Supervisor Dan Padover, who was employed away from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, the Dream employed a brand new staff president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With each transfer, the Atlanta Dream have made it clear that there isn’t a wanting again, solely wanting ahead.
“It actually was a solution to come into one thing on the floor ground that I’ve by no means been in a position to do,” Padover stated. He added: “I seen it as a problem, and I additionally knew I used to be going to be with actually good folks, and we had been going to usher in actually good gamers.”
Howard averaged 20.5 factors per recreation within the 2021-22 season at Kentucky and left as a two-time SEC participant of the yr. She was named to the Related Press first staff three of her 4 years in Lexington.
Her transition to the skilled ranks has been easy. By way of 16 video games, Howard is averaging 16.3 factors, 4.3 rebounds and a couple of.7 assists per recreation. She was named the WNBA rookie of the month for Could.
She leads the Dream in factors and minutes (31) per recreation and is a prime candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Yr Award. To this point, she has validated all that it took for Atlanta to get her.
5 days earlier than the draft, Atlanta traded its first-round (third general) and second-round (14th general) picks to the Washington Mystics for the No. 1 jumpsuit decide. Moreover, the Mystics can swap their 2023 first-round decide for the 2023 first-round decide the Dream acquired in a commerce with the Los Angeles Sparks.
“Once we seemed on the commerce, we have identified within the W that it is actually, actually arduous to get elite-level gamers,” Padover stated. “And whenever you get a chance to get one, it’s a must to actually think about it.”
He continued: “For us to get a participant of Rhyne’s caliber to begin this rebuilding course of, we did not assume we might move it up. And I feel the opposite factor that we checked out was not simply the 2022 draft — we seemed on the draft from 2020 to 2023, and there weren’t plenty of gamers that we might evaluate to Rhyne.”
Though there may be plenty of pleasure for the trail forward, Padover is below no illusions that it will likely be a simple highway. Nobody on the staff has gained a championship apart from Wright, who gained in 2010 with the Seattle Storm.
“We do have to get to the place we wish to get from a aggressive standpoint,” he stated. “We wish to be a constant playoff staff for years to return. We’ll see what occurs this yr, however I am undecided we’re there but.”
Atlanta had dropped 4 straight video games earlier than beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored a minimum of 90 factors in three of the 4 losses. Within the earlier 11 video games, solely the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces had scored greater than 80 factors towards the Dream.
“Defensively, we have to get again to ourselves,” Wright stated after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Solar final week. Atlanta averages a league-leading 17.7 turnovers per recreation. The Dream have conceded 15.1 factors per recreation due to turnovers and one other 9.3 factors per recreation on quick breaks. However the defensive numbers aren’t all dangerous: Atlanta is simply behind the Connecticut Solar with the third-fewest second-chance factors allowed (9.2) per recreation.
Nia Coffey leads the staff with 5 defensive rebounds per recreation, however Parker and Billings are proper behind her with 4.8 per recreation. Parker additionally leads the staff with 1.3 blocks per recreation, and averages 11.8 factors per recreation.
“What we had been useless set on was that we wanted to verify we introduced in professionals who had been going to be respectful of each other and likewise make the town and this franchise proud,” Padover stated.
What’s going to that appear to be on the finish of the common season? Will a playoff berth or main league award present that Atlanta is shifting in the fitting course?
“A purpose of mine is to be rookie of the yr,” Howard stated, “however simply having the ability to have an effect on this staff constantly and constantly and simply main us to the place everybody needs to go is sufficient for me. I am not going to get any accomplishments with out my staff.”
The Dream should struggle to stay in playoff rivalry, however Howard leads all rookies in per-game averages for minutes, factors, steals, and 3-pointers and discipline objectives made. Early returns say she may be the elite participant Padover and the Dream thought she can be.