Angela Taylor Interview, Part II: on the 2014 WNBA Draft, about her experiences drafting with the Mystics, and on handling conflict

We continue our interview with new Atlanta Dream general manager Angela Taylor. We talk about who has the final say in the Atlanta front office, on evaluating foreign players and why mock drafts might not be the best guide to the 2014 WNBA Draft.

Yesterday we shared the first part of a recent interview with new Atlanta Dream general manager Angela Taylor. We take off from the last part by asking about the 2014 WNBA Draft and what needs to happen for the Dream to go back to the Finals.

Swish Appeal: Do you have the "final say" in basketball operations and player personnel - which also includes hiring the coach and deciding which players get drafted - or does someone higher up in the Dream front office have that power? For what areas do you have the "final say"?

Angela Taylor: Our owners, Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler, they have the final say. This is their team. This is their organization, this is their company, this is their dream. We’re executing their vision.

For me, for the owners, for Michael and myself, we all are very collaborative by nature. I think we’ll reach a consensus on a lot of different things. If it’s player decisions, if it’s staffing decisions, I’ll have a lot of input on what that is going to be. But for me, it’s not about "final say" – it’s about "what’s our collective vision?" Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page, and the answer should come to us based on that.

If we are talking through this on a constant basis – understanding what Michael needs to be able to work with on the court, on whom we need to draft, and if we decide, we can go to the owners and tell them this is our vision, these are the players we think are going to help us get to that point.

I don’t like that rigid, "here’s the final say." But the owners trust me implicitly with building this WNBA team. I trust Michael, and I think together we’ll be able to make some savvy decisions.

Swish Appeal: If you were to draft or sign a foreign player: do you look for one with previous experience in the WNBA, or in college? How do you evaluate players that have not played in the United States?

Angela Taylor: That’s a great question. You know, there’s a lot of different things. First, it’s such a cultural change for an international player to come to the United States if they have not been here before. Part of it is with their comfort zone, and their excitement about being part of the WNBA.

Part of it is their commitment about to wanting to be here from start to finish. How their availability is. We understand the best international players and the best players in the world are part of their national teams, and so there may be times whether it’s for world championships or the Olympics that we might not be able to have them for a full season – there may be gaps in time when they may not being here.

You look at it from a lot of different standpoints – the value of taking an international player versus what your roster looks like. Can you afford maybe to have this player not be here for a couple of months, and how does that affect your roster? How talented are they? If you look at Erika de Souza, if you look at Lauren Jackson, if you look at some of the international players we’ve had, it’s well worth whatever some of the complications may be.

For me, I look at international players the same way I look at a college player – a player who has not played in the WNBA yet. There may be an adjustment, because the international game is different, but depending on how talented they are their learning curve may be a little bit shorter.

Swish Appeal: When talking about the 2014 WNBA Draft, Coach Cooper stated that he felt the best player was Chiney Ogwumike. Do you agree with him?

Angela Taylor: I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer this question, saying that I’m a Stanford graduate and a loyal Stanford alum! Chiney – I’ve had the benefit to be able to watch her over the years. She’s a fantastic player; I think Anne Donovan and Chris Sienko at Connecticut will have a great opportunity to choose a great player at Number One.

I’m biased. Anyone who comes out at Stanford brings a lot to the table. Not just from a statistical standpoint, but the intangibles. Chiney is certainly somebody that brings a lot of intangibles. She continues to get better on the court, but her leadership, her energy – I think that that will help any franchise.

Swish Appeal: Two years ago, there was a conflict between Angel McCoughtry and coach/GM Marynell Meadors in Atlanta that resulted in Meadors getting replaced by Fred Williams and McCoughtry staying on that team. Do you have any perspective on that situation from a GM's standpoint? Does the general manager get involved when a coach and a player are not getting along?

Angela Taylor: First, I must say, I obviously wasn’t here during that situation, and I’m not sure what happened. I’m sure there are a lot of rumors out there about what happened, but no one really knows. We can’t just speculate on what was the situation. I think out of fairness to Coach Meadors and Angel, it would be unfair to speculate on what went on.

But it’s about people. Winning championships is about chemistry, and people getting along, and their being accountability for your role. For us, it’s so important that we’re all on the same page at all times. Is it always going to be beautiful? That just is not realistic, that there aren’t going to be those tense moments. Whether it’s teammates, whether it’s coaches, whether it’s coach/general manager, where maybe we disagree or we don’t get along. But at the end of the day, as long as we’re on the same page, and we can rectify the situation, and we can talk it out, that’s what’s important.

When and if I need to step into any situation, absolutely, we’ll do that. There are certain things that I don’t stand for. We’ll be getting along. I have no questions about that, I know that Coach Cooper and Karleen have great interpersonal dynamics with players. I think our players are going to have a lot of respect for our coaching staff and what they bring to the table. Our coaches are going to have high expectations for our players; they’re going to be disciplined and they’re going to hold them accountable.

Overall, between myself and the owners, we’re going to make sure we represent themselves and the Dream organization in a very professional manner at all times.

Swish Appeal: How many elite prospects do you see in the 2014 Draft? By "elite prospects", I mean a player that could start immediately on an average WNBA team.

Angela Taylor: You know, I think that sometime that evaluation of elite prospects or who can start is overblown until you see where they’re drafted. What I think about this year’s draft is that there are players who will be better in different systems that they may be in another team’s system.

For the first eight to ten picks in the draft, depending on where those players go, depending on what the current rosters look like and the depth chart at that particular position, some may play more than others. Some may fit perfectly into our system in Atlanta, but if they went to another franchise, maybe that system doesn’t suit them as well.

I think that many of those players are systematic type of players. I see there’s quite a few players that have great experience competing at the international level, that have played with USA Basketball, that can come in. I don’t know if they’ll have the impact that an Elena Delle Donne had last year – the bar is set high with Elena and Brittney Griner. Those are two transcendent players.

I think that there are a handful of players in this year’s draft that can come in that can make an impact. And I think there are a lot of players in this draft that can play a role, whether it’s coming off the bench or giving decent minutes, and showing some growth by the end of the year.

Swish Appeal: Let me follow up on that question. You said that certain players will work better in certain systems. Do you think there will be a lot of surprises in the draft, where people will say, "Why did that person get drafted there?" but it was actually a great fit for that team?

Angela Taylor: I do. I think that there’ll be some different triggers. I think that what happens in free agency will dictate some different things that you see from the mock drafts right now. I think there will be some trades, whether trading players or trading players for a draft pick that will change that dynamic. There may be some surprise picks in the early half of the first round that may allow some players hopefully to drop down to number eight and positions like that. I think there will be some interesting things that might transpire.

If you look at players like Janel McCarville who was drafted by Charlotte – it was okay, she had some back issues, maybe she wasn’t healthy, but then went to a different market and we saw how talent she was. The same thing happened with Nicole Powell, who was drafted by Charlotte as well, and went to Sacramento and flourished.

I think that systems are so important, and people sometimes overlook that if a player is not successful in one system, it’s maybe not about their skill set, but rather that their skill set is not particularly suited for that particular system, and it’s not an indictment on their skills.

Swish Appeal: Talk about your experiences in drafting with the Washington Mystics. What was successful about those drafts, and what was unsuccessful?

Angela Taylor: My first year in Washington, we drafted Marissa Coleman, who obviously had a great college career at the University of Maryland. The first ten games of her rookie season she was playing extremely well and then got injured and hurt her ankle, and after that she kind of struggled the rest of her rookie season but was perfect for what we were about with that organization. She gave us a lot of flexibility. She fit into our personality, and we were really excited about that.

The next year we drafted Jacinta Monroe who had some knee issues. We took a flyer on Jacinta – we needed height in the post. She had some knee issues in college that we thought we’d be able to deal with, but they were aggravating and she never really got off the ground. The games she played in she actually did some decent things, but she never got off the ground.

Certainly in the last three years, you look and think some decisions you could have maybe done differently. When you look at the draft, you really have to make the decision of is it long term or is it short term. You have to understand what you’re doing in free agency. You have to make the decisions of whether it’s the best player available or if you pick the position of need. Particularly in the second draft when we drafted Jacinta, it was a position of need – we needed a big.

Maybe, if I had to do that decision again, I probably would have looked at her health a little bit deeper and figured out if there was something else we could have done to get another post, or just have taken the best player available. There’s no perfect decision. When you’re drafting, you’re really taking a flyer, but you really don’t know. Bill Laimbeer says this all the time – that we think we’re gurus, that we know everything. You’re hoping and praying that your pick will work out, but sometimes you’ve got to be patient and that you’re looking at the long term.

Swish Appeal: As a general manager, what changes do you see as necessary for the Dream to return to the WNBA Finals? Or is it just a matter of being patient?

Angela Taylor: That’s our goal. Michael and I? The pressure’s on us. This team has been very successful the last four years, having gone to three finals. We don’t want to break something – don’t try to fix it. For us, health – and I think this is for every WNBA team – these players play year round, they don’t get a lot of time off, it takes a huge toll on their body.

If we can be healthy throughout the season, I think that that will be great. We missed a lot of time with Sancho Lyttle last year. We missed a lot of time with Tiffany Hayes who was in and out of the lineup. If we can get our core and make sure that they’re healthy, and if we can add to that through free agency or the draft? I think that we have a solid core group of players right now, I’m really happy with what our roster is and what that looks like.

How quickly they are able to get comfortable in Coop’s system – there’s going to be a ramp up – but if we can get comfortable in that early on, we get right off in the schedule started with some conference match-ups after San Antonio. We think that winning is contagious, and we’re trying to create a culture where winning is fun. It doesn’t have to be a job. But I think that our players are really going to respond well to our style, our leadership style, our management style.

We have a strong leadership team. I think that players will understand their roles. I think we’ll be able to maximize what these players will be able to do. I think Michael’s offensive system and his defensive system compliment their talents already, so I think they’re going to buy what we’re trying to do, and that will be very important.

But health is critical. And the season is so short. You can’t get off to a slow start.

Swish Appeal: The average WNBA fan definitely knows the name of the stars and might know the name of the coach - but the general manager position tends to be an anonymous one. How did that work in Washington? Did the fans know who you were there? Were there advantages to that?

Angela Taylor: I’m a behind-the-scenes type of person anyway. That’s not what’s important to me, or who gets credit or all that. I think if we win, everyone wins as an organization, that’s what important to me.

But yeah, we have great fans. We have great fans in the WNBA. Whether it was in Minnesota, when I was on the business side, or in Washington, certainly you get to know the fans. Not because you’re the name or the general manager is your title, but because it’s so important to interact with our fans and get to know these people who supported you and who’ve been loyal and who are the heart and soul of the WNBA. I think for that reason, more than for being "Angela Taylor, General Manager of the Dream", that they know me because I make a point of getting to know the fans.

Swish Appeal: What is your experience with Atlanta? Do you have a previous connection with Atlanta?

Angela Taylor: One of the things that I’ve learned over the last few days that I’ve been here interacting with fans, whether it’s at Georgia Tech or at some season ticket holder events is that Bobbie Kelsey, who was my teammate at Stanford, played here in the Atlanta area. Everyone knows whose Bobbie Kelsey is, she’s currently the head coach of the University of Wisconsin. That’s one connection.

I have not spent a lot of time in Atlanta outside of recruiting here when I was coaching at Stanford or coaching in college – because there’s so much young talent in this state. Either that, or coming down here and competing and playing.

I’m looking forward to getting to know Atlanta, I’ve heard so much about it. Everyone who has moved here loves this city, there’s a lot to offer. I think the fan base is really excited about the Atlanta Dream. I’m looking forward to be a part of the Atlanta community.

Swish Appeal: Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Swish Appeal or to the Atlanta Dream fans hat we’ve not had a chance to ask?

Angela Taylor: Well first of all, I’d like to thank you for what you do. Swish Appeal does so much in covering women’s sports, the WNBA. This is so critical to the evolution of the league. In order for us to continue going, we need to tell our story, so I appreciate what you do for this.

And to the Atlanta fans, I’m looking forward to getting to know them, I’m looking forward to being part of this community. I’m looking forward to building a championship organization with Coach Cooper and we’re looking forward to cutting down some nets and having a championship parade down Peachtree Street.

We’re here to win. We’re not just here for a job. We’re not just here to wear the gear. We’re here to roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to win a WNBA championship – but it won’t be very easy by any means because there are some very talented teams out there. But we are committed to doing it the right way and making the city pride.

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