Nicki Collen gives update on Dream’s offseason, free agency

Photo Credit: Atlanta Dream

The 2021 offseason and free agency period for the Atlanta Dream has been mostly a mixed bag.

It may not have been the absolute whirlwind that the 2020 offseason was when the Dream brought multiple big-name players into the fold, announced an arena change and saw one of its owners go to the Senate, but Nicki Collen and Chris Sienko have still been hard at work attempting to bolster an Atlanta squad that once again finished as a lottery team last season in the bubble.

The Dream have seen the retirement of Renee Montgomery, but also added Cheyenne Parker (formerly of Chicago Sky) and Yvonne Turner (formerly of Phoenix Mercury) as well as Tianna Hawkins (formerly of Washington Mystics). It also recently announced its latest signing in Kaela Davis.

In addition, Betnijah Laney, who was last year’s Most Improved Player, took her talents north to the New York Liberty.

Atlanta’s coach, Nicki Collen, gave an update on how free agency in the ATL is going and said she felt good about how things were going.

When you think about our spacing and our issues offensively, we just really have not put a player at that power forward position that can stretch the D which makes the lane tighter for our guards, it makes the lane tighter for Elizabeth on rolls…offensively, this league is about spacing and how you can create it.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Collen also waxed poetically about Parker – a signing that the Dream made that was overshadowed because of another notable Parker going to Chicago as opposed to departing the Windy City.

When you look at Cheyenne, she’s been a player that’s been developing little by little year after year … was one of the best in the league inside of five feet, her effective field goal percentage and really her ability to stretch the defense all the way to the arc.”

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

She admitted that on the issue of Hawkins that she was a player that has been on the Dream’s radar for sometime. Collen believes that there is plenty of untapped potential in Hawkins and that perhaps she may fit Atlanta’s system than Washington’s.

Hawkins does bring championship experience to the Dream as evidenced by the 2019 championship the Mystics won – and got through Atlanta en route to those Finals.

Tianna Hawkins is one of those players that I’ve asked Thibault about for a couple of years…I thought she was always one of those players that was super effective and maybe didn’t get enough minutes just because of how crowded their backcourt was.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Collen described Hawkins as a “pro’s pro” and added that she believes Turner with her status as a veteran can provide a positive influence and brings a battle-tested resume given her experience with the Mercury in playoff games.

She believes she will be a “security blanket” for Atlanta because of Montgomery’s retirement as well as another situation involving another player on its roster. Collen thinks that Maite Cazorla likely will not be available with the Dream because she is putting more emphasis on being part of the Spanish national team for the Olympics.

As for Courtney Williams, a marquee signing Atlanta made last free agency period given her Connecticut Sun connections to Collen and her experience playing in the previous year’s Finals, Collen understands that the Williams from last year was not the real her.

Courtney was not Courtney. Courtney wasn’t the player we saw in the Finals against Washington the year before and a lot of that was the pandemic combined with her actually getting Covid and being … so late to the bubble.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Collen sees Tiffany Hayes replacing Laney – saying that in the past she hasn’t shied away from having the spotlight on her when she plays, but has felt some sort of way on being a leader or the face of the franchise as well as handling the increasing media obligations of a WNBA player.

I think Tiffany’s ready.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

On what she sees the Dream still doing in free agency, Collen says she will put emphasis on backcourt depth and that could be gained via the remaining free agents out there or the draft. This season’s draft has the potential to be a wash outside of the first round given how general managers may perceive the draft class as well as the uncertainty on if seniors will declare because of a possible extra year of eligibility.

Collen was asked about this, and she mentioned that even with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Atlanta’s staff is still doing the most it can to ensure its scouting of players is as thorough as possible.

A plus, she says is that there are still plenty of opportunities to scout talent.

There’s still enough volume of games.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Normally, we would be wondering what juniors are coming out and now we’re questioning, hey are all these seniors coming out…And maybe it won’t affect the top half of the first round, or even the first round in general. I think where it begins to affect players is players that are second and third round picks that a year ago would’ve been super excited to get drafted …

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

She says some prospects may decide to return to school a year for academic reasons if not athletics reasons, but also believes that if a player sees herself at or near the top of the draft board that she should give this year’s draft a try.

I think most players that have a chance to go in the top half of the first round should probably take that opportunity.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Atlanta’s coach gave an honest assessment of where she believes Kalani Brown is at early in her career. The 2021 season will be Brown’s third in the league after starting her career in Los Angeles with the Sparks.

Kalani’s as good as Kalani wants to be. She’s got great hands, she’s got great feet, she runs end to end really well. The question is … last year when I played her, we got destroyed in pick and rolls.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

As for Montgomery, Collen commended her on her years in the league and mentioned that her decision to put away her jersey was very un-Montgomery given how she says she typically approaches these sorts of moments.

Collen mentioned that she was the first player to take a chance on her after she first became a head coach in Atlanta.

This took her a while. It took her a while to get to the point of retirement which is very unusual for her. Because I can tell you going back to, really, the process of free agency when she came here. The first time I ever talked to her, we might have talked for well over two hours. And we just really hit it off.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Says Montgomery is one who makes decisions, “sleeps on them” then almost immediately decides to go through with a decision.

She says Montgomery’s decision making process is one where she arrives at a decision, then sleeps on it, then almost immediately decides to follow through. Collen knows that while Montgomery may have concluded her playing days, her second act – from sports team ownership to media to social justice activism – is only beginning.

The kid knows how to hustle … she’s been on every sports show, talk show, anything she can get on and talk about it, like, she’s done.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Whether it’s voting suppression or anything like that, you know she’s studied it the same way she would (an) opponent’s scouting report.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

She mentioned how she was a vocal leader and a loud voice – and will continue to be so in the greater public sphere. Collen recalled how a referee’s decision involving Montgomery may have made the difference between the Mystics playing the Sun in that year’s Finals and the Dream advancing.

If she doesn’t foul out in the final Game 5 of the semis on a questionable call, we were, maybe, playing in the Finals that year.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

Another element to Montgomery that she commended was walking the delicate tightrope of coming out against now-former Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler (and Dream co-owner) when she made caustic and hurtful comments ripping the Black Lives Matter movement.

WNBA players responded in the bubble with black t-shirts that said “Vote Warnock,” a reference to Raphael Warnock who was challenging Loeffler for the Georgia senate seat. Warnock was eventually successful when he won a runoff against Loeffler in early January.

She kept it even really classy in terms of what was going on with ownership … There would’ve been a million different times when she could’ve taken a shot and she didn’t. She understood the politics of the situation and really was always classy.

–Nicki Collen, Dream coach

In the front office, the Dream also made another move.

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