The Atlanta Dream's decision 'to move in a different direction' is both surprising and understandable

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After guiding a young franchise to its third WNBA Finals in four years, the Dream have decided not to renew Fred Williams' contract. Although the move was mildly surprising, it's also not hard to understand.

There's reason to believe the Dream were sincere in their statement that they're looking to simply change direction (and style of play?) after going 0-for-9 in their three WNBA Finals appearances over the last four years.

Williams, whose contract runs through Nov. 30, will move to a consultant position as the team transitions to a new head coach and general manager.

"Coach Williams has been an instrumental part of our success since the team's inception, and although we have decided to move in a different direction, we appreciate Fred's dedicated service and ensuring that the Dream remained among the top teams in the WNBA," said Atlanta Dream co-owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler. "He is a great teacher of the game, and is well respected by his peers."

"Change? I guess change is good for any of us."

In this case, there's plenty of reason to believe that changing direction is genuinely the right thing to do rather than a euphemistic condemnation of Williams' job performance.

Even before a discussion of how well Williams did in his first full year with the Dream, it's quite clear that the transition to Williams from Marynell Meadors didn't exactly trigger a major shift in the status quo - this was still a team that relied heavily on defense, pushing tempo, scoring in transition, and offensive rebounding to win games which is what they've done from the very beginning.

"Not a lot has changed," broadcaster LaChina Robinson said in a media teleconference prior to the Eastern Conference Finals. "You have to keep in mind Fred Williams was here. He wants to play fast, he believes in in-your-face defense. Maybe the biggest culture change is that he is quiet. He's not as demonstrative as (Marynell) Meadors maybe was. I think she was a little more fiery, a little more emotional from that end."

It's perfectly reasonable to wonder whether the Dream's current style of play and roster composition has run its course if they plan to get over this last hurdle of winning a WNBA Finals game series - sometimes a different vision can catalyze improvement even if it ruffles feathers at first. Does changing their approach require a coach/GM change? Not always. But that's where the mixed opinions on Williams enter the discussion.

Although our own Albert Lee had Williams on the hot seat at midseason and reiterated the point in his final grades for the season, Full Court's Bob Corwin had a more optimistic take on the Dream's season in his analysis of where they stand entering the offseason.

How much blame/credit should the coaching get in all this?

Good coaching can be viewed as taking a team as far as its talent allows, and Williams did that, given the Dream's available roster. A healthy Sancho Lyttle (world class power forward) would have helped greatly but still might not have been enough to win the 2013 Final series. Regardless, the Dream deserve praise for just getting as far as they did. Winning one playoff series often is not easy and the Dream won two.

In agreement with Corwin, there's no question that Williams did something right; as Albert has noted, their uneven performance during the season and failing to see different results in the Finals justifies consideration of a change in direction

From a management perspective, the team's offseason personnel priorities should be pretty clear: their inability to hit shots from the perimeter has been a major weakness that forced them to rely heavily on transition scoring and makes it harder to create spacing on the court for center Erika de Souza to score inside or All-Star wing Angel McCoughtry to drive. From a coaching perspective, just adding shooters and passers to complement the skills of de Souza and McCoughtry will allow them to be a lot more creative offensively in terms of the number of threats they'll have on the floor to put pressure on defenses.

It's way too early to say definitively whether this is the right move even if it's both surprising and understandable - that will depend on who they find to replace Williams and how well the team performs over the next few seasons. But even if you disagree with the move now, it's not difficult to understand.

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