Sweet Dreams: Atlanta has come back with a vengeance in 2022

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

One of the biggest understatements anyone within the WNBA family can make is that the period of the Atlanta Dream’s history from Angel McCoughtry’s departure to the Las Vegas Aces to the end of 2021 was one of the most tumultuous in the time period of any franchise.

In 2020, the Dream made bigger headlines for its now ex-owner Kelly Loeffler outing herself as a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement. Atlanta players as well as those from the rest of the W rallied in support of Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church as he challenged Loeffler for one of Georgia’s two Senate seats.

Warnock, of course won. It was also around that time that the Dream updated its logo and relocated from State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta to the Gateway Center Arena in College Park – adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (the busiest in the world).

In addition, Loeffler and co-owner Mary Brock sold the team to a consortium that included former Dream, Minnesota Lynx and WNBA great Renee Montgomery as well as a couple of other New England businesspersons in Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair.

The 2021 season was not exactly dreamy either in the ATL’s southern suburbs. A reported locker room dust-up after a blowout loss to the Aces, the sudden departure of ex-coach Nicki Collen to Baylor plus an altercation recorded on video involving Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford represented the Dream’s 2021 in a nutshell (or should we say peach?).

Heading into 2022, Atlanta had to hit a hard reset button. The previous Dream regime saw them draw inspiration from the Connecticut Sun with Collen as coach and ex-Sun executive Chris Sienko as general manager.

This time, they drew inspiration from those very Aces by tapping Dan Padover as its general manager and ex-Las Vegas assistant Tanisha Wright as head coach. Padover also pulled off, arguably, the move of the offseason by moving up in the 2022 WNBA draft by completing a trade with the Washington Mystics (who won the draft lottery) for the first overall pick.

With that pick, the Dream chose Rhyne Howard out of Kentucky. The Mystics went with Shakira Austin from Ole Miss.

The results for the Dream have spoken for themselves. As of today, Atlanta would be the No. 4 overall seed in the playoffs with a 7-4 record only behind the Aces, the Sun and the defending champion Chicago Sky – all tabbed as championship contenders prior to the start of the 2022 campaign.

With a mix of youngsters that include Howard and Aari McDonald as well as veteran players that include 2019 All-Star Game MVP Erica Wheeler and Cheyenne Parker, there is exciting basketball taking place in College Park, Georgia.

With everything that the Atlanta franchise has been through the last few seasons and given how Montgomery has established herself as a model for other would-be Black women owners, there is arguably no franchise in the W (maybe outside of the New York Liberty) that deserves a winner more than the Dream.

In addition, the Dream are selling out the Gateway Center Arena. Anyone who has followed Atlanta Dream basketball over the years knows that it is a team that has been plagued in recent seasons by low attendance – even in years that saw the Dream win.

Low attendance to Atlanta games appears to be a thing of the past within the Dream franchise. The Dream have once again found an identity – something Atlanta was devoid of since McCoughtry’s departure – with Howard at the helm. In addition, those attending Dream games at the Gateway Center Arena or those watching on Bally Sports South/Southeast are treated to a unique experience because of how the Heroine, Explorer and Rebel uniforms pop against the classic-style court Atlanta takes to the hardwood on.

Wright also understands the importance of preaching defense. She has turned Gateway Center Arena into a home court advantage not only because of the sellout crowds, but because of the stifling defense the Dream brings game in and game out.

Atlanta appears poised to qualify as a playoff team in only Howard’s first year in the league. A lot of hardware could also be on its way to College Park the way things have gone so far. Howard appears to be the favorite for Rookie of the Year (and needs to be playing in this year’s All-Star Game in Chicago. Wright looks as if she was all but won Coach of the Year. Padover may add yet another Executive of the Year award to the two he already won in Sin City.

While the Dream stand at 7-4, one of their more impressive performances actually came in a recent loss. Atlanta matched up against the defending champion Chicago Sky – a true test of if the Dream’s breakout 2022 was for real or a fluke.

The Sky jumped out to a 24-4 lead over the Dream, but Atlanta slowly but surely chipped away at its deficit and even took a lead in the fourth quarter. Chicago eventually prevailed by a final score of 73-65 but the heart the Dream showed had to confirm to the entire WNBA that Atlanta is no longer a team other squads can automatically mark off as a win.

When thinking about the WNBA in Atlanta, much of those thoughts have more closely resembled nightmares rather than sweet dreams. Those sweet dreams appear to be back for Atlanta and Montgomery and company appear to be just getting started.