Who are the Atlanta Dream?
While we know unrestricted free agents Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford will not be returning to Atlanta, little else is certain about the 2022 version of the Dream.
After an unstable, injury-riddled 2021 season, the Dream hired a new head coach in Tanisha Wright and then a new general manager and executive vice president in Dan Padover, both of whom are arriving in Atlanta by way of the Las Vegas Aces.
Following a 14-year WNBA career, Wright spent two seasons as an assistant coach under former Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer. Padover served as general manager for the Aces since the organization relocated to Las Vegas in 2018. The past two seasons, Padover was named the WNBA’s Executive of the Year.
Padover earned these honors, and, in turn, transformed the Aces into a bona fide championship contender, because of his willingness to make big, bold moves. Before the 2019 season, he brought Liz Cambage to Vegas. During the 2020 offseason, he imported former Dream superstar Angel McCoughtry. In 2021, he lured Chelsea Gray away from the Los Angeles Sparks.
With the Dream having only one player on a guaranteed contract entering the 2022 offseason — Cheyenne Parker, who recently gave birth to a daughter and, therefore, might not be a full participant in the 2022 WNBA season — Padover has the potential to make some big, franchise-altering moves.
Will he try to microwave a contender, retaining veterans and signing prime free agents in order to vault the Dream into playoff contention? Or, will he opt for a slower rebuild, constructing a young team around Chennedy Carter, Aari McDonald and the forthcoming 2022 No. 3 draft pick?
By the numbers*
Free agents (type) (2021 average salary)(qualifying offer)
- Blake Dietrick (unrestricted) ($20,609)
- Candice Dupree (unrestricted) ($89,270)
- Tiffany Hayes (unrestricted) ($119,780)
- Odyssey Sims (unrestricted) ($93,260)
- Shekinna Stricklin (unrestricted) ($175,000)
- Courtney Williams (unrestricted) ($190,550)
- Elizabeth Williams (unrestricted) ($119,000)
- Monique Billings (restricted) ($70,040) (QO not yet tendered)
- Crystal Bradford (reserved) ($58,710)
Total average salary of free agents: $936,219
Total team salary: $542,959
Cap space: $836,241
The first domino to fall for the Dream likely will be Tiffany Hayes. Presumably, the decision will be Hayes’, not the Dream’s.
A Dream lifer, Hayes has expressed interest in participating in the restoration of the organization. However, she could be tempted by free agency offers from a team with a clearer championship upside.
If Hayes chooses to stick around, it would make sense for Padover to aggressively recruit free agents to Atlanta in order to surround her with a veteran, winning roster.
Could he again inspire Liz Cambage to change teams? Could he attract the interest of Myisha Hines-Allen? Alternatively, imagine an explosive backcourt of Hayes and Jewell Loyd!
Or, what about Tina Charles? Could Padover, himself a UConn alum, reunite former UConn teammates Hayes and Charles, who together won two national championships in Storrs? Following the conclusion of the Mystics’ 2021 season, Charles did not exactly sound enthusiastic about returning to DC.
If Padover were to go down this path, retaining Elizabeth Williams should then become a priority. Pairing the offensively-dominant Charles with the defensively-dependable Williams would provide Atlanta with a balanced frontcourt. Williams’ return also would be welcomed for not-insignificant offcourt reasons, as she has been integral to the Dream’s activist initiatives.
Were the Dream to reach deals with Hayes, Charles and Williams, the organization still would have significant cap space. Padover, presumably possessing two more protected veteran salary slots, would have the ability to entice other experienced players to come to Atlanta and be part of a ready-to-win team. Of the Dream’s other free agents, re-signing Monique Billings should be a clear concern. Otherwise, Padover should set his sights higher than Candice Dupree, Odyssey Sims and Shekinna Stricklin. After Tianna Hawkins had an uneven inaugural season in Atlanta, financial flexibility could determine whether or not Padover, Wright and the Dream decide to keep Hawkins, who is on an unprotected contract, on the roster.
If Hayes departs the Dream, the next domino for the Dream would be Chennedy Carter. The No. 3 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, Carter has flashed superstar potential. Yet, behavioral issues stalled Carter’s sophomore season, as she only played 11 games after being suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to team.
Yet, Carter’s status as a member of the Dream seems secure, as Wright has insisted that Carter is “a part of our roster.”
Recently, Angel McCoughtry, who still resides in Atlanta in the offseason, shared that she has begun mentoring Carter. Could McCoughtry, familiar with Padover and Wright from their time together in Vegas, return to Atlanta and agree to serve as a needed veteran leader for Carter and a young Dream team?
If Carter and the Dream commit to each other, the biggest puzzle for Padover to solve will be building a team around Carter and Aari McDonald, the No. 3 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
From one perspective, the duo is tantalizing, with the sweet shiftiness of Carter balanced by the super speed of McDonald forming a difficult-to-deal-with backcourt combination. Yet, despite McDonald’s proven defensive prowess and Carter’s willingness to fight on that end of the floor, the size issues with the two cannot be ignored, as other teams could overwhelm the 5-foot-6 McDonald and 5-foot-9 Carter.
Yet, with approximately $836,241 in cap space, Padover would have the financial resources needed to begin building a viable roster around a Carter-McDonald tandem. Bringing back the bouncy Billings again would make sense with this potential construction of the Dream. It also could be smart to make a generous qualifying offer to a restricted free agent with eyes on a bigger role. Maybe Atlanta-native Diamond DeShields?
In short, the 2022 Dream will look different. What kind of different depends on the possibly big moves that Padover makes during his first offseason in charge in ATL.
*All salary numbers come from HerHoopStats.