Atlanta Dream were trying to start over.
After a couple of difficult seasons – player disqualification, many losses, a riot against a team owner – it was time to try something new.
Nothing says a clean sweep like building a new list.
Atlanta had only a few players from last year’s squad: Monique Billings, Aari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes, and Cheyenne Parker.
Another piece fell into place when Dream traded for the top pick in this year’s draft and selected University of Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard. Howard made history as the only former Wildcat to be selected first ever by a WNBA franchise. Despite the powerful moves Atlanta made to make sure Howard was part of their rebuilding, she feels no pressure to atone for the failures of previous Atlanta teams.
“I was aware of what was going on, but we didn’t talk about it,” Howard said in a telephone interview earlier this month. “We didn’t, and we didn’t even do it before the draft because it’s like it’s in the past now. Everyone here is fundamentally new, so we’re just trying to rebuild, which we’ve done so far. “
Atlanta Dreams are in contention for the playoffs as the WNBA approaches the All-Star break, but barely. I’m 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 start under first-time coach Tanisha Wright was promising for a franchise with fewer than 16 wins in the past two seasons.
Promising, yes, but not satisfying.
The Dream have not made it to post-season play since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 record on their way to winning the Coach of the Year award. It seemed like the golden age of Dream basketball might be back.
After winning just four games as an expansion club in 2008, Dream have earned six consecutive seats after the season, including three away games to the WNBA Finals.
However, in 2019 the Dreams were back at the bottom of the table and would not have won more than eight games in three consecutive seasons. Even off the pitch there was a stir.
In 2020, the Dream caught the attention of the sports and political world when the team’s players publicly supported Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia running for a Senate seat against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who was co-owner of the Dream.
Then last season, Dream suspended guard Chennedy Carter after 11 games for “conduct harmful to the team”. That May, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford were involved in a fight outside an Atlanta club. It wasn’t until after the season, when video of the fight surfaced, that the WNBA suspended them. Nobody is with Atlanta now.
Not even Loeffler, who sold the team in February 2021 after losing to Warnock. There are many new faces, including Wright, Howard and general manager Dan Padover, who was hired by the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, the Dream hired a new team president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With every move, the Atlanta Dream made it clear that you can’t look back, only look forward.
“It was really a way to get into something downstairs that I’ve never been able to do,” Padover said. He added: “I saw it as a challenge and I also knew that I would be with really good people and that we would bring in really good players.”
Howard averaged 20.5 points per game in the 2021-22 season at Kentucky and left the SEC Player of the Year twice. She was named to the Associated Press first team three of her four years in Lexington.
His transition to the professional ranks was smooth. In 16 games, Howard averages 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. She was named WNBA rookie of the month for May.
She leads the Dream in points and minutes (31) per game and is one of the best candidates for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. So far, she has validated everything it took Atlanta to get her.
Five days before the draft, Atlanta traded its picks of the first round (third overall) and the second round (14th overall) with the Washington Mystics for the No. 1 choice of suit. Additionally, the Mystics can swap their 2023 first-round pick for the 2023 first-round pick that the Dream acquired in an exchange with the Los Angeles Sparks.
“When we looked at the swap, we realized in W that it’s really, really hard to get elite level players,” said Padover. “And when you have the opportunity to have one, you have to really consider it.”
He continued: “To get a player of Rhyne’s caliber to start this rebuilding process, we didn’t think we could do without it. And I think the other thing we considered wasn’t just the 2022 draft – we’ve been looking at the draft since 2020. to 2023 and there weren’t many players that we could compare to Rhyne. “
While there is a lot of excitement about the path ahead, Padover is under no illusion that it will be an easy road. No one on the team has won a championship except Wright, who won in 2010 with Seattle Storm.
“We have to get to where we want to go from a competitive point of view,” he said. “We want to be a consistent playoff team for years to come. We’ll see what happens this year, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. “
Atlanta had lost four straight games before beating Dallas on Tuesday. The opponents scored at least 90 points in three of the four defeats. In the previous 11 games, only seeded Las Vegas Aces had scored more than 80 points against the Dream.
“In defense, we have to get back to ourselves,” Wright said after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Sun last week. Atlanta averages 17.7 turnovers per game. Dreams suffered 15.1 points per game from turnovers and another 9.3 points per game from counterattacks. But the defensive numbers aren’t bad at all: Atlanta is just behind the Connecticut Sun with the third lowest number of second chance points awarded (9.2) per game.
Nia Coffey leads the team with five defensive rebounds per game, but Parker and Billings are right behind her with 4.8 per game. Parker also leads the team with 1.3 blocks per game and an average of 11.8 points per game.
“What we were absolutely fixed on was that we had to make sure we were engaging professionals who would be respectful of each other and also make the city and this franchise proud,” said Padover.
What will it be like at the end of the regular season? Will a playoff seat or major league award show Atlanta is moving in the right direction?
“One of my goals is to be rookie of the year,” Howard said, “but to be able to impact this team continuously and consistently and get us where everyone wants to go is enough for me. result without my team “.
The Dream will have to fight to stay in contention for the playoffs, but Howard leads all rookies in the averages per game by minutes, points, steals and 3 points and field goals scored. Early reports say she may be the elite player that Padover and the Dream thought she would be.