Dream’s Clean-Slate strategy created space for a star: Ryan Howard

Atlanta dreamed of starting over.

After several difficult seasons – stopping players, losing a lot, rebelling against the team owner – it was time to try something new.

Nothing is as clean as creating a new roster.

Atlanta retained only a handful of players from last year’s team: Monique Billings, Ari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes and Cheyenne Parker.

Another piece came when Dream moved on to the first pick in this year’s draft and selected Kentucky University defender Ryan Howard. Howard made history as the only former wild cat to be first selected by the WNBA franchise. Despite Atlanta’s forceful moves to ensure Howard is part of their recovery, he does not feel any pressure to make up for the failure of past Atlanta teams.

“I knew what was going on, but we did not talk about it,” Howard said in a telephone interview earlier this month. “We did not have it and we did not have it before the draft, because it is in the past now. “Everything here is mostly new, so we are just trying to restore what we have done so far.”

The Atlanta Dream is in the playoffs as the WNBA approaches the All-Star break, but barely. They are 8-8 after defeating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 start for the first time under coach Tanisha Wright was promising for the franchise with less than 16 wins over the last two seasons.

Promising, yes, but not satisfactory.

The Dream has not reached the post-season game since 2018 when Nicky Colene reached Atlanta 23-11 to win the Coach of the Year award. It seemed as if the dream basketball boom period was back.

After winning just four games as an expansion club in 2008, Dream won six post-season places in a row, including three trips to the WNBA Finals.

However, by 2019, Dream was still lagging behind at the bottom of the rankings and could not win more than eight games in three consecutive seasons. There was unrest beyond the court as well.

In 2020, the dream caught the attention of the sports and political world when team players publicly backed Reverend Rafael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia running for the Senate seat against Republican incumbent President Kelly Lofler, who co-sponsored the Dream. .

Then last season, Dream suspended defender Cheney Carter after 11 games “for conduct detrimental to the team”. That May, defenders Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford got into a fight outside the Atlanta club. Only after the season when the fighting video appeared did the WNBA stop them. None of them are in Atlanta right now.

Neither is Lofler, who sold the team after losing to Warnock in February 2021. There are plenty of new faces, including Wright, Howard and general manager Dan Padover, who were hired from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, Dream had hired new team president Morgan Shaw Parker. With each step, the Atlanta Dream has made it clear that there is no turning back, only moving forward.

“It really was a way to get to the first floor for something I could never do,” Padover said. He added: “I saw it as a challenge and I also knew I would be with really good people and we were going to bring in really good players.”

Howard averaged 20.5 points in the 2021-22 season in Kentucky, leaving him a two-time SEC player of the year. He was named to the Associated Press first team during his four years in Lexington.

His transition to professional ranks went smoothly. From 16 games, Howard averages 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He was named WNBA Player of the Month for May.

He leads Dream with points and minutes (31) in the game and is the nominee for the League’s Newcomer of the Year award. So far he has confirmed everything that Atlanta needed to get him.

Five days before the draft, Atlanta traded the Mystics Washington No. 1 for the first round (third overall) and second round (14th overall). In addition, the Mystics can change their 2023 first round selection by choosing the 2023 first round purchased during a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“When we watched the trade, we knew in W that it was really difficult to get elite players,” Padover said. “And when you get a chance to get it, you really have to take it into account.”

He continued: “If we started the recovery process for a player of the Rhine caliber, we did not think we could throw him out. I think the other thing we looked at was not just the 2022 draft – we were looking at the draft from 2020 to 2023 and there were not many players to compare to Rain.

While there is plenty of fun ahead, paddlers have no illusions that this will be the easy way out. No one on the team has won the championship except Wright, who won the 2010 Seattle Storm.

“We have to get where we want to go in terms of competition,” he said. We want to be a consistent playoff team for years to come. “Let’s see what happens this year, but I’m not sure we’re there yet.”

Atlanta lost four games in a row before beating Dallas on Tuesday. Rivals have scored at least 90 points in three of their four defeats. In the previous 11 games, only the first-seeded Las Vegas Ace has scored more than 80 points against the Dreamers.

“On defense, we have to get back to ourselves,” Wright said after losing 105-92 to Connecticut last week. Atlanta averages 17.7 Brunei per league. The “Dreams” get 15.1 points per game due to turnover and another 9.3 points per game on quick breaks. But defensive numbers are not necessarily bad: Atlanta is tied with Connecticut San with the second lowest allowed second-point score in the game (9.2).

Nia Kofi leads the team in the game with five defensive rebounds, but Parker and Billings are behind her with 4.8 in the game. Parker also leads the team in the game with 1.3 blocks and an average of 11.8 points per game.

“What we were dying for was that we needed to make sure we brought in professionals who would respect each other and also the city and the pride of this franchise,” Padover said.

What will it be like at the end of the regular season? Does the playoffs or the Premier League award show that Atlanta is moving in the right direction?

“My goal is to be the rookie of the year,” Howard said. “I’m not going to achieve anything without my team.”

“Dream” will have to fight to stay in the playoffs, but Howard leads all newcomers in the average minutes per game, points, steals and 3-point and field goals. Early responses say he could be an elite player Padover and dream he thought he would be.

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