A clean slate dream strategy made room for a star: Ryan Howard

The Atlanta Dream wanted to start over.

After a couple of difficult seasons – player suspensions, many defeats, rebellion against the team owner – it’s time to try something new.

Nothing speaks like a clean slate like creating a new line-up.

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

Another detail fell into place when the Dream were traded for the first pick in this year’s draft and selected defenseman. Ryan Howard from the University of Kentucky. Howard made history as the only former Wildcat to be drafted first overall by a WNBA franchise. Even though Atlanta has taken powerful steps to have Howard be part of their recovery, they don’t feel any pressure to atone for the shortcomings of Atlanta’s past teams.

“I knew what was going on, but we didn’t talk about it,” Howard said in a phone interview earlier this month. “We didn’t and we didn’t even before the draft because that’s in the past now. Everyone here is basically new, so we just want to restore what we’ve done so far.”

The Atlanta Dream is in contention for the playoffs as the WNBA approaches the All-Star break, but hardly. They are 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 start under new coach Tanisha Wright has been promising for the franchise with less than 16 wins in the last two seasons.

Promising, yes, but not satisfying.

The Dream have not made the playoffs since 2018, when Nicky Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 record en route to winning the Coach of the Year award. The heyday of Dream basketball seemed to be back.

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

However, by 2019, the Dream were back at the bottom of the league table and have not won more than eight games in three consecutive seasons. Not without turmoil and off the court.

Dream caught the attention of the sports and political world in 2020 when the team’s players publicly supported Rev. Raphael Warnocka Georgia Democrat who ran for Senate against Republican incumbent Kelly Leffler, co-owner of Dream.

Then last season Dream suspended a guard chennedy carter after 11 games for “team detrimental behavior”. In May of that year, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford got into a fight outside a club in Atlanta. It wasn’t until after the end of the season, when the fight video surfaced, that the WNBA suspended them. Nobody’s with Atlanta right now.

Like Leffler, who sold the team in February 2021 after losing to Warnock. Many new faces emerged, including Wright, Howard, and general manager Dan Padover, who was hired from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, Dream hired a new team president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With every step, Atlanta Dream made it clear that you can’t look back, only look forward.

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

Howard averaged 20.5 points per game in 2021-22 in Kentucky and was named a two-time SEC Player of the Year. She was named to the Associated Press First Team for three of her four years at Lexington.

Her transition to the professional ranks went smoothly. In 16 games, Howard is averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. She was named WNBA Rookie of the Month for May.

She leads the Dream in points and minutes (31) per game and is a prime candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. So far, she’s confirmed everything it took Atlanta to get her.

Five days before the call Atlanta Traded his first round (third overall) and second round (14th overall) select the Washington Mystics for first place. 1 common choice. In addition, the Mystics may trade their 2023 first-round pick for a 2023 first-round pick that Dream acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“When we looked at the trade, we knew at W that it was very, very difficult to get elite-level players,” Padover said. “And when you have the opportunity to get it, you have to really think about it.”

He continued, “For us to get a player of Ryan’s caliber to start this recovery process, we didn’t think we could give it up. And I think the other thing we were looking at was not just the 2022 draft – we were looking at the 2020 to 2023 draft and there weren’t many players that we could compare to Ryan.”

Even though the road ahead causes a lot of excitement, Padover has no illusions that it will be an easy road. No one on the team has won a championship other than Wright, who won in 2010 with the Seattle Storm.

“We need to achieve what we want to achieve in terms of competition,” 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’re there yet.”

Atlanta lost four games in a row before beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored at least 90 points in three of the four defeats. In the previous 11 games, only the top players in the Las Vegas Aces have scored over 80 points against the Dream.

“Defensively, we need to get back to ourselves,” Wright said after losing 105-92 to the Connecticut Sun last week. Atlanta leads the league on average with 17.7 losses per game. The dream has succumbed 15.1 points per game due to losses and more 9.3 points for playing fast breaks. But the defensive record isn’t all that bad, with Atlanta 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 are right behind her with 4.8 rebounds per game. Parker also leads the team with 1.3 blocks per game and averages 11.8 points per game.

“We were determined to make sure we were attracting professionals who would respect each other and also make the city and this franchise proud,” Padover said.

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

“My goal is to be Rookie of the Year,” Howard said, “but it’s enough for me to just be able to consistently and consistently influence this team and just take us where everyone wants to go. Without my team, I will not achieve any achievements.”

The Dream will have to struggle to stay in the playoffs, but Howard leads all rookies in per-game averages in minutes, points, steals, three-pointers and field goals. Early results say she could be an elite player, Padover, and Dream thought she would be.