At the Olympic break, the Atlanta Dream were caught in the middle of almost all women’s basketball headlines, but for reasons far from their on-court performance.
A team that defined the term rebuild this season – new ownership in former WNBA and Dream player Renee Montgomery, former head coach Nicki Collen leaving for Baylor University a week before the season started, and a top-five draft pick for the second year in a row, 2021 was going to look a lot different for the team.
Through 19 games, the Dream sit at 6-13, though currently it looks similar to their 7-15 record of 2020, there’s still room for improvement despite the Dream ending the first half of the season on a four-game losing streak.
One bright spot of the rebuild has been Courtney Williams, the five-foot-eight guard Atlanta acquired in a three-team trade in 2020 has had the best two seasons of her six-season career with the Dream, including a current career-best 16.3 points and 4.1 assists per game averages.
Williams got her first all-star nod this year after leading the Dream in scoring, including a 31-point performance over the red-hot New York Liberty to start the season, setting the tone for her season. Williams also added 15 points during the all-star game that helped Team WNBA beat Team USA.
“I was out there having fun, it’s fun to be out there around all these great players and just playing the game that we love, I enjoyed myself,” said Williams after the all-star game.
— Atlanta Dream (@AtlantaDream) July 15, 2021
Tiffany Hayes has also been a bright spot for the Dream. She averaged 17.6 points per game during the first 11 contests of the season, but an injury has have derailed her season as Hayes has been sidelined since June, diagnosed with a Grade Two MCL tear in her right knee. The Dream are hopeful the guard will return for the second half in August, however.
Though Atlanta currently sits in 10th in the league-wide WNBA standings, the same position they finished last year that saw them miss the playoffs by just two wins, there’s potential for the squad to regroup and try to work on areas like defensive rebounding that other teams are simply outperforming them at.
With that said, the Dream’s problems come from more places than just not being able to get on the glass or shoot as well as their opponents.
One of Atlanta’s biggest losses in 2021 was losing Betnijah Laney – the 2020 Most Improved Player – to the New York Liberty. Laney has been one of the most important players in Walt Hopkins’ offence this season, shooting a career high 48.5 per cent from the floor and averaging 19 points and five assists per game.
Having those 19 points per game would be a huge step up for the Dream, the team where Laney had an explosive season shooting twice as much as she previously had in her career and finding her shot, and being able to facilitate that kind of environment for other players would be a step in the right direction for Atlanta in the second half of the season.
Not only did the Dream lose Laney in free agency, but they also lost Cheyenne Parker after 13 games as she announced on July 14 that she had played her last game of the season as Parker is in her second trimester of pregnancy.
“I don’t like having any type of unfinished business left on the court — and I feel like we still haven’t put it together as a team this year in Atlanta,” said Parker in her announcement in the Players’ Tribune.
Another downfall for the Dream is team chemistry, both on and off the court. Third-overall draft pick Chennedy Carter was suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team” On July 5, and it was reported that there may have been an altercation on the bench during a game that led to it.
During the Dream’s matchup against Las Vegas on July 4, it was reported that Williams, known for her engagement of her teammates, had told Carter in the first quarter to cheer for her teammates from the bench and be more involved despite having limited minutes. An argument took place and Carter did not re-enter the game after the opening quarter.
After her breakout rookie season, Carter has been seen on the bench more frequently under interim head coach Mike Petersen, playing only 11 of this season’s 19 games due to injury, and many believe that Carter is unhappy with her playing time.
“The decision was made in co-operation with the coaching staff and ownership,” Petersen said. “She’s working through stuff with ownership to try to get a process where she can return.”
On the court, the Dream have lost four games this season by less than three points – two of which come against top teams Seattle and Minnesota – but their shaky chemistry points to a bigger issue in their team than anything else.
With a roster loaded with talent, the Dream have the pieces to be able to move forward in their rebuild, which is still, of course, only in its first year, but ensuring players like Williams and Carter can co-exist on the team and ensuring a positive culture will be key coming out of the all-star break.