The Dream’s Clean-Slate Strategy Made Space for a Star: Rhyne Howard

The Atlanta Dream had been seeking to begin over.

After a few rocky seasons — participant suspensions, a number of losses, a revolt in opposition to a staff proprietor — it was time to strive one thing new.

Nothing says clear slate like constructing a brand new roster.

Atlanta saved only some gamers from final 12 months’s staff: Monique Billings, Aari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes and Cheyenne Parker.

One other piece fell into place when the Dream traded up for the primary decide on this 12 months’s draft and chosen guard Rhyne Howard from the College of Kentucky. Howard made historical past as the one former Wildcat to be chosen first general by a W.N.B.A. franchise. Regardless of the ability strikes Atlanta made to make sure Howard was part of their rebuild, she isn’t feeling any stress to atone for the failings of previous Atlanta groups.

“I used to be conscious of what has been occurring, however we didn’t discuss that,” Howard mentioned in a telephone interview earlier this month. “We haven’t, and we didn’t even earlier than the draft as a result of it’s like, it’s prior to now now. Everybody right here is mainly new, so we’re simply seeking to rebuild, which we’ve finished up to now.”

The Atlanta Dream are in playoff rivalry because the W.N.B.A. nears the All-Star break, however simply barely. They’re 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 begin beneath the first-time coach Tanisha Wright was promising for a franchise with fewer than 16 wins during the last two seasons.

Promising, sure, however not satisfying.

The Dream haven’t made it to postseason play since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 file en path to profitable the Coach of the Yr Award. It regarded as if the heyday of Dream basketball might need returned.

After profitable solely 4 video games as an growth membership in 2008, the Dream earned six consecutive postseason berths, together with three journeys to the W.N.B.A. finals.

Nevertheless, by 2019 the Dream had been once more scraping on the backside of the standings and wouldn’t win greater than eight video games in three straight seasons. There was turmoil off the courtroom as properly.

In 2020, the Dream caught the eye of the sports activities and political worlds when the staff’s gamers publicly supported the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia who was working for a Senate seat in opposition to the Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who co-owned the Dream.

Then final season, the Dream suspended guard Chennedy Carter after 11 video games for “conduct detrimental to the staff.” That Could, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford had been concerned in a struggle outdoors of a membership in Atlanta. It wasn’t till after the season, when video of the struggle surfaced, that the W.N.B.A. suspended them. None are with Atlanta now.

Neither is Loeffler, who bought the staff in February 2021 after dropping to Warnock. There are many new faces, together with Wright, Howard and Normal Supervisor Dan Padover, who was employed away from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, the Dream employed a brand new staff president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With each transfer, the Atlanta Dream have made it clear that there isn’t any wanting again, solely wanting ahead.

“It actually was a method to come into one thing on the floor flooring that I’ve by no means been capable of do,” Padover mentioned. He added: “I seen it as a problem, and I additionally knew I used to be going to be with actually good folks, and we had been going to herald actually good gamers.”

Howard had averaged 20.5 factors per recreation within the 2021-22 season at Kentucky and left as a two-time SEC participant of the 12 months. She was named to the Related Press first staff three of her 4 years in Lexington.

Her transition to the skilled ranks has been clean. By 16 video games, Howard is averaging 16.3 factors, 4.3 rebounds and a pair of.7 assists per recreation. She was named the W.N.B.A. rookie of the month for Could.

She leads the Dream in factors and minutes (31) per recreation and is a high candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Yr Award. To this point, she has validated all that it took for Atlanta to get her.

5 days earlier than the draft, Atlanta traded its first-round (third general) and second-round (14th general) picks to the Washington Mystics for the No. 1 general decide. Moreover, the Mystics can swap their 2023 first-round decide for the 2023 first-round decide the Dream acquired in a commerce with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“Once we regarded on the commerce, we’ve identified within the W that it’s actually, actually arduous to get elite-level gamers,” Padover mentioned. “And while you get a chance to get one, you must actually contemplate it.”

He continued: “For us to get a participant of Rhyne’s caliber to start out this rebuilding course of, we didn’t suppose we may move it up. And I feel the opposite factor that we checked out was not simply the 2022 draft — we regarded on the draft from 2020 to 2023, and there weren’t a number of gamers that we may examine to Rhyne.”

Though there’s a number of pleasure for the trail forward, Padover is beneath no illusions that will probably be a straightforward highway. Nobody on the staff has received a championship apart from Wright, who received in 2010 with the Seattle Storm.

“We do must get to the place we need to get from a aggressive standpoint,” he mentioned. “We need to be a constant playoff staff for years to come back. We’ll see what occurs this 12 months, however I’m undecided we’re there but.”

Atlanta had dropped 4 straight video games earlier than beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored not less than 90 factors in three of the 4 losses. Within the earlier 11 video games, solely the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces had scored greater than 80 factors in opposition to the Dream.

“Defensively, we have to get again to ourselves,” Wright mentioned after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Solar final week. Atlanta averages a league-leading 17.7 turnovers per recreation. The Dream have conceded 15.1 points per recreation due to turnovers and one other 9.3 points per recreation on quick breaks. However the defensive numbers aren’t all dangerous: Atlanta is simply behind the Connecticut Solar with the third-fewest second-chance factors allowed (9.2) per recreation.

Nia Coffey leads the staff with 5 defensive rebounds per recreation, however Parker and Billings are proper behind her with 4.8 per recreation. Parker additionally leads the staff with 1.3 blocks per recreation, and averages 11.8 factors per recreation.

“What we had been useless set on was that we wanted to verify we introduced in professionals who had been going to be respectful of each other and in addition make the town and this franchise proud,” Padover mentioned.

What’s going to that appear like on the finish of the common season? Will a playoff berth or main league award present that Atlanta is shifting in the precise route?

“A objective of mine is to be rookie of the 12 months,” Howard mentioned, “however simply having the ability to have an effect on this staff repeatedly and constantly and simply main us to the place everybody desires to go is sufficient for me. I’m not going to get any accomplishments with out my staff.”

The Dream must struggle to stay in playoff rivalry, however Howard leads all rookies in per-game averages for minutes, factors, steals, and 3-pointers and subject targets made. Early returns say she may be the elite participant Padover and the Dream thought she could be.

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