We all figured that things would be more tranquil around the Atlanta Dream once they got over the hurdle of removing its ex-owners in Kelly Loeffler and Mary Brock.
As the 2021 Dream season turned out, Atlanta is still a very busy place in WNBA circles – and mostly for the wrong reasons.
After going through a season where two individuals in Mike Petersen and Darius Taylor assumed the role of head coach, the Dream finished 8-24 on the season and have its sights set on winning the draft lottery.
In many ways, with the Dream under the new ownership of Renee Montgomery and Larry Gottesdiener, Atlanta is going through a major transition. It is also going through a transition coach-wise with the addition of Tanisha Wright, a former assistant under Bill Laimbeer with the Las Vegas Aces.
Wright is the third Black woman (joining Noelle Quinn at the Seattle Storm and Vicki Johnson at the Dallas Wings) to be a current head coach in the WNBA. Derek Fisher (Los Angeles Sparks) and James Wade (coaching in the Finals with Chicago Sky) are the two Black male head coaches.
Hopefully, for Atlanta’s sake, Wright comes in and puts emphasis on changing the culture within the Dream. Because as last season displayed, there are a lot of issues within the Dream’s locker room.
That recent viral video of that fight between Dream players was the latest sign of how daunting rebuilding the Dream will be. Ever since Angel McCoughtry decided to leave the ATL for Las Vegas, the Dream have been devoid of an on-court identity.
Atlanta was supposed to have that on-court identity for life after McCoughtry in the form of Chennedy Carter, who the Dream selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2020 draft. Carter put up impressive numbers in the bubble and because the New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu only played two full games that season, she probably would have been the Rookie of the Year if not for her own injury problems. Crystal Dangerfield (Minnesota Lynx) won Rookie of the Year that season.
But Carter was suspended from the team after Atlanta was blown out on the road in Las Vegas prior to the Olympic break. Surprisingly enough, she also was not traded at the deadline. Figuring out the conundrum that is Hollywood is going to be step one in rebuilding the Dream for a better 2022. Carter was not simply drafted to be a role player – she was drafted to be a cornerstone of the Atlanta franchise for the next 15 years.
While Wright may be the first full-time coach the Dream have had since Nicki Collen shocked the basketball world prior to the start of the season by taking the job at Baylor, Atlanta still has not had a general manager since Chris Sienko left even though Dream brass are saying that a hire on that front should be coming soon.
Interestingly enough, the Dream are a team that prior to that loss to the Aces that precipitated the bottom falling out in Atlanta, Petersen actually had his team in the throes of a playoff chase. It was not until the second half of the season where it became clear that the Dream were on a one-way connector back to the lottery.
Wright brings experience as a player which makes her a relatable candidate for the role of coach. She played from 2005 to 2019 – including 10 seasons with the Storm. She has been an assistant coach in Sin City for the past pair of seasons.
With so much of Atlanta’s roster not being under contract for 2022 – and how that video of that fight means no Crystal Bradford or Courtney Williams, Wright has her work cut out for her. Fixing the Atlanta Dream is not simply going to be a one-season job – it is a process that likely will take a number of seasons.
With Wright in place as coach and a general manager announcement coming soon, the Dream’s prime directive should be to hit a hard reset on its organization. The first step is changing the front office – that slowly, but surely, is getting done. The second is re-evaluating that roster, changing the culture of that locker room and, perhaps, mending fences with Carter.
The best-case scenarios for what the Dream should build towards in the next few years can be found with the Wings and Liberty. Both are teams that were rebuilding through the draft lottery the last few seasons. Both teams got younger and both teams saw their rebuilds hit a high point with making the playoffs in 2021.
Atlanta likely will not be expected to make playoffs in 2022. The aspiration for the Dream should be see where they stack up in relation to the rest of the W, keep the 2022 season drama-free, then see about 2023. If those happen, then the Dream organization will look a lot less than the nightmare it appeared to be in 2021.