The dream’s clean slate strategy made room for a star: Rhyne Howard

The dream’s clean slate strategy made room for a star: Rhyne Howard

The Atlanta Dream was looking to start over.

After a couple of rough seasons (player suspensions, lots of losses, a revolt against the team owner), it was time to try something new.

Nothing says clean slate like building a new list.

Atlanta kept only a few players from last year’s team: 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 guard Rhyne Howard out of the University of Kentucky. Howard made history as the only former Wildcat to be selected first overall by a WNBA franchise. Despite the mighty moves Atlanta made to ensure Howard was a part of their rebuild, he doesn’t feel any pressure to fix the failings of previous Atlanta teams.

“I was aware of what was going on, but we didn’t talk about it,” Howard said in a phone interview earlier this month. “We haven’t done it, and we didn’t even do it before the draft because it’s like, now it’s in the past. Everyone here is basically new, so we’re just looking to rebuild, what we’ve done so far.”

The Atlanta Dream is in playoff contention as the WNBA approaches the All-Star break, but just barely. They are 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. His 6-4 start under first-time coach Tanisha Wright was promising for a franchise with fewer than 16 wins the past two seasons.

Promising, yes, but not satisfactory.

The Dream hasn’t made the postseason since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 record en route to winning the Coach of the Year Award. It seemed that the heyday of Dream basketball might have returned.

After winning just four games as an expansion club in 2008, the Dream earned six straight postseason berths, including three trips to the WNBA Finals.

However, by 2019, the Dream were back at the bottom of the standings and would win no more than eight games in three consecutive seasons. There was also confusion off the pitch.

In 2020, the Dream came to the attention of the sports and political world when players on the team publicly endorsed the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat running for a Senate seat against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, the Dream’s co-owner. .

Then last season, Dream suspended guard Chennedy Carter after 11 games for “conduct detrimental to the team.” That May, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford got into a fight outside a club in Atlanta. It wasn’t until after the season, when video of the fight surfaced, that the WNBA suspended them. Neither is with Atlanta now.

Neither did Loeffler, who sold the team in February 2021 after losing to Warnock. There are plenty of new faces, including Wright, Howard and general manager Dan Padover, who was hired from 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 has made it clear that there is no need to look back, only look forward.

“It was really a way to get to something downstairs that I had never been able to do,” Padover said. He added: “I saw it as a challenge, and I also knew that I was going to be with really good people, and we were going to bring in really good players.”

Howard had averaged 20.5 points per game in the 2021-22 season at Kentucky and left twice as SEC player of the year. She was named to the first Associated Press team three of her four years at Lexington.

His transition into the professional ranks has been smooth. In 16 games, Howard is averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. She was named the WNBA Rookie of the Month for May.

She leads the Dream in points and minutes (31) per game and is a top contender for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. So far, she has validated whatever it took for Atlanta to get her.

Five days before the draft, Atlanta traded its first round (3rd overall) and second round (14th overall) picks to the Washington Mystics for the first overall pick. Additionally, the Mystics can trade their 2023 first-round pick for the 2023 first-round pick Dream acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“When we looked at the trade, we knew in the W that it’s very, very difficult to get elite-level players,” Padover said. “And when you have the opportunity to get one, you really should consider it.”

He continued: “For us to get a player of Rhyne’s caliber to start this rebuilding process, we didn’t think we could pass it up. And I think the other thing we saw wasn’t just the 2022 draft: We saw the 2020 to 2023 draft, and there weren’t a lot of players that we could compare to Rhyne.”

Although there is much enthusiasm for the road ahead, Padover is under no illusions that it will be an easy road. No one on the team has won a championship except for Wright, who won it in 2010 with the Seattle Storm.

“We need to get to where we want to be from a competitive standpoint,” 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’ll be there yet.”

Atlanta had lost four straight games before beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored at least 90 points in three of the four losses. In the previous 11 games, only the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces had scored more than 80 points against the Dream.

“Defensively, we need to get back to ourselves,” Wright said after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Sun last week. Atlanta is averaging a league-leading 17.7 turnovers per game. The Dream have given up 15.1 points per game on turnovers and another 9.3 points per game on fast breaks. But the defensive numbers aren’t all bad: Atlanta trails just behind the Connecticut Sun with the third-fewest second-chance points allowed (9.2) per game.

Nia Coffey leads the team with five defensive rebounds per game, but Parker and Billings trail her with 4.8 per game. Parker also leads the team with 1.3 blocks per game and is averaging 11.8 points per game.

“What we were determined on was that we needed to make sure we brought in professionals that were respectful of each other and also made the city and this franchise proud,” Padover said.

What will that look like at the end of the regular season? Will a playoff berth or major league award show Atlanta is moving in the right direction?

“A goal of mine is to be rookie of the year,” Howard said, “but being able to continuously and consistently make an impact on this team and take us where everyone wants to go is enough for me. I’m not going to achieve anything without my team.”

The Dream will have to fight to stay in playoff contention, but Howard leads all rookies in averages per game for minutes, points, steals, 3-pointers and field goals made. Early results say she may be the elite player Padover and Dream thought she would be.

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