The Atlanta Dream had been seeking to begin over.
After a few rocky seasons — participant suspensions, a number of losses, a revolt towards a group proprietor — it was time to strive one thing new.
Nothing says clear slate like constructing a brand new roster.
Atlanta saved only some gamers from final yr’s group: Monique Billings, Aari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes and Cheyenne Parker.
One other piece fell into place when the Dream traded up for the primary choose 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 W.N.B.A. franchise. Regardless of the facility strikes Atlanta made to make sure Howard was part of their rebuild, she isn’t feeling any strain to atone for the failings of previous Atlanta groups.
“I used to be conscious of what has been happening, however we didn’t speak about that,” Howard mentioned in a cellphone interview earlier this month. “We haven’t, and we didn’t even earlier than the draft as a result of it’s like, it’s previously now. Everybody right here is principally new, so we’re simply seeking to rebuild, which now we have completed to date.”
The Atlanta Dream are in playoff competition because the W.N.B.A. 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 haven’t made it to postseason play since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 file en path to profitable the Coach of the Yr Award. It appeared as if the heyday of Dream basketball might need returned.
After profitable solely 4 video games as an enlargement membership in 2008, the Dream earned six consecutive postseason berths, together with three journeys to the W.N.B.A. 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 court docket as nicely.
In 2020, the Dream caught the eye of the sports activities and political worlds when the group’s gamers publicly supported the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia who was working 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 detrimental to the group.” That Could, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford had been concerned in a struggle exterior of a membership in Atlanta. It wasn’t till after the season, when video of the struggle surfaced, that the W.N.B.A. suspended them. None are with Atlanta now.
Neither is Loeffler, who bought the group in February 2021 after dropping to Warnock. There are many new faces, together with Wright, Howard and Normal Supervisor Dan Padover, who was employed away from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, the Dream employed a brand new group president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With each transfer, the Atlanta Dream have made it clear that there isn’t a trying again, solely trying ahead.
“It actually was a approach to come into one thing on the floor flooring that I’ve by no means been in a position to do,” Padover mentioned. He added: “I considered it as a problem, and I additionally knew I used to be going to be with actually good individuals, and we had been going to herald actually good gamers.”
Howard had averaged 20.5 factors per sport 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 group three of her 4 years in Lexington.
Her transition to the skilled ranks has been easy. By 16 video games, Howard is averaging 16.3 factors, 4.3 rebounds and a pair of.7 assists per sport. She was named the W.N.B.A. rookie of the month for Could.
She leads the Dream in factors and minutes (31) per sport and is a high candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Yr Award. Up to now, 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 general choose. Moreover, the Mystics can swap their 2023 first-round choose for the 2023 first-round choose the Dream acquired in a commerce with the Los Angeles Sparks.
“After we appeared on the commerce, we’ve identified within the W that it’s actually, actually onerous to get elite-level gamers,” Padover mentioned. “And if you get a chance to get one, it’s important to actually think about it.”
He continued: “For us to get a participant of Rhyne’s caliber to begin this rebuilding course of, we didn’t assume we may go it up. And I feel the opposite factor that we checked out was not simply the 2022 draft — we appeared on the draft from 2020 to 2023, and there weren’t a number of gamers that we may evaluate to Rhyne.”
Though there may be a number of pleasure for the trail forward, Padover is below no illusions that it is going to be a simple highway. Nobody on the group 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 mentioned. “We wish to be a constant playoff group for years to come back. We’ll see what occurs this yr, however I’m unsure we’re there but.”
Atlanta had dropped 4 straight video games earlier than beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored at the very least 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 mentioned after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Solar final week. Atlanta averages a league-leading 17.7 turnovers per sport. The Dream have conceded 15.1 factors per sport due to turnovers and one other 9.3 factors per sport 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 sport.
Nia Coffey leads the group with 5 defensive rebounds per sport, however Parker and Billings are proper behind her with 4.8 per sport. Parker additionally leads the group with 1.3 blocks per sport, and averages 11.8 factors per sport.
“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 in addition make town and this franchise proud,” Padover mentioned.
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 suitable course?
“A purpose of mine is to be rookie of the yr,” Howard mentioned, “however simply having the ability to have an effect on this group repeatedly and constantly and simply main us to the place everybody desires to go is sufficient for me. I’m not going to get any accomplishments with out my group.”
The Dream must struggle to stay in playoff competition, however Howard leads all rookies in per-game averages for minutes, factors, steals, and 3-pointers and subject objectives made. Early returns say she might be the elite participant Padover and the Dream thought she can be.