Cored: Erika de Souza
Unrestricted Free Agents: Iziane Castro Marques, Sandora Irvin, Coco Miller
Restricted Free Agents: Alison Bales, Armintie Price
Reserved: Yelena Leuchanka, Courtney Paris
Re-signing Sancho Lyttle to an extension during the 2011 season was the pre-emptive strike that allowed the Dream to core de Souza. With Lyttle signed, Angel McCoughtry several years away from true free agency, and Lindsey Harding a recent arrival who chose to be there, Erika was the last big piece to worry about. Keeping her is worth tying up their core spot, if she wants to sign a multi-year deal. The problem in 2012 is that Brazil may want her to skip the WNBA to prepare for the Olympics, so even if she signs, the Dream may be without her services for the first half of the season.
If they’re ultimately missing de Souza for a long stretch, those other free agent bigs become important. Belarus didn’t make it to even the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, so Leuchanka may well arrive and play this year. They’ll probably hope to keep Bales, who was a reasonable backup option at center last year, although they’ll be hoping not to have to pay her too much. Paris will probably get another chance to at least make the team in training camp, as might Irvin.
Out on the perimeter, who knows. Their options alongside McCoughtry were shown up in the Finals against Minnesota, with Iziane Castro Marques’s inconsistencies and Armintie Price’s lack of shooting ability leaving them without anyone who was effective consistently at both ends of the floor. However, Castro Marques’s history with head coach Marynell Meadors (not to mention her job keeping compatriot de Souza happy and sometimes interpreting for her) may buy Izi another deal. There may be some other teams interested in taking her away, but after her atrocious 2011 regular season it’s unlikely they’ll be banging down her door. Price actually had a pretty strong regular season last year, only fading in the playoffs when the matchups really didn’t suit her. She’s a nice fit in Atlanta’s system and they’ll likely try hard to keep her, but Dream assistant coach Carol Ross was recently appointed head coach in Los Angeles. Ross has a long-term relationship with Price after also coaching her in college, and the Sparks could use her speed and defensive ability, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see LA pursue her. Atlanta might be forced to overpay Price if they really want to keep her in town.
As for who Atlanta might pursue on the open market, the most likely options would be to fill that same off-guard spot. Deals for de Souza, Price, Bales and Leuchanka would severely limit their cap space, but if they pick and choose there could be room for one big move. If she’s finally available and wants to return to the WNBA, I’m sure they’d be one of several teams interested in making a deal with Tulsa for Deanna Nolan. Similarly, they’re likely one of several who’d be interested in Candice Wiggins if Minnesota aren’t prepared to match a high-priced deal, with New York’s Essence Carson and Washington’s Matee Ajavon potential options as well (although their current teams are unlikely to let them go). Tanisha Wright would be a great fit as well, but Seattle likely wouldn’t have allowed her to become a true unrestricted free agent unless they were certain she was staying in Storm green.
Given the complete lack of perimeter shooting in Atlanta – an issue they’ve struggled with for years now – even someone like Erin Thorn could help this roster, purely thanks to her ability to stretch the floor. Also, someone in this league is going to take a chance that Alana Beard is finally back in one piece, and Meadors has been known to take a chance or two in the past.