Yes, I’m back, hopefully with more content this year. We’re kicking off with the usual team-by-team previews, in the traditional Eastern Conference first, alphabetical order (even though the WNBA essentially destroyed conferences this offseason – more on that later). Enjoy, and as always feel free to comment underneath or contact me at @RichardCohen1
PG: Matee Ajavon/Carla Cortijo
SG: Tiffany Hayes/Layshia Clarendon/Meighan Simmons
SF: Angel McCoughtry/Bria Holmes
PF: Sancho Lyttle/Reshanda Gray/Cierra Burdick
C: Elizabeth Williams/Rachel Hollivay
Significant additions: Williams and Clarendon, to be generous. Cortijo is virtually new after playing two games last year. Holmes was their first-round pick. But nothing much to get excited about.
Significant losses: Shoni Schimmel’s gone, after head coach Michael Cooper finally grew tired of her issues with staying in shape. Damiris Dantas has been suspended for the season, presumably after choosing to stay with the Brazilian national team rather than show up in Atlanta. They also chose not to match the restricted free agent offer sheet Connecticut handed Aneika Henry-Morello.
The Dream were a mess last year, and there aren’t many signs that they’re likely to drag themselves out of it in 2016. McCoughtry’s a star, Hayes and Lyttle are two very good pieces, and there are some youngsters dotted around that might make progress, but you need to be a distinct optimist to be hopeful about their upcoming season. The revolving door at point guard remains a gaping question mark, with no one quite sure how Cooper’s going to try to fill it. In recent days they waived a couple of drafted options in Niya Johnson and Ariel Massengale, picked up another off waivers in Jordan Jones (before waiving her as well), and traded for a pseudo-point in Layshia Clarendon. All after dumping Schimmel for a second-round pick to New York. Ajavon isn’t a point guard, Cortijo’s a virtual unknown, and if they’ve signed a couple more options by the time you’re reading this it wouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a shambles.
In an Olympic year they’re also likely to lose Lyttle for several games midseason to help Spain qualify, assuming she shows up in the first place (having already lost fellow post Damiris Dantas to Brazil). They sent the 4th overall pick in the draft, who could’ve provided some hope and excitement for the fan-base, to Connecticut for Elizabeth Williams. After giving up on the deteriorating Erika de Souza last season, the Dream needed a new option at center, but Williams looked pretty ordinary in her rookie year with the Sun last season. She’ll probably fill the hole well enough, but dumping the #4 pick for her was a high price to pay.
All of that said, credit to Atlanta for going young with their final cuts from training camp. DeLisha Milton-Jones and Roneeka Hodges were both released in favour of keeping young players who may or may not pan out – but at least there’s a chance. Keeping fading veterans who only helped you be terrible last season seemed thoroughly pointless.
Best Case Scenario
Ignoring the doom and gloom, there is a possible scenario in which the Dream turn things around this year. If Williams turns out to be a solid replacement for de Souza, the core of this team isn’t that different from the group that was streaky, but had a tendency to make deep playoff runs in previous years. McCoughtry and Hayes flying down the wings, Lyttle bouncing around at the 4, lots of steals from a gambling and annoying defense, and a cast of faceless anybodies at the point. The key pieces would have to stay healthy, but that’s true for virtually every team in the WNBA.
Worst Case Scenario
The trends of last year continue. The point guard merry-go-round drags them down, Lyttle’s banged up from all her games and travel around the world, McCoughtry gets sick and tired of all the losing and goes a little crazy (just for a change), and everything splinters. It’s certainly possible that Cooper doesn’t last the season in charge, even though he now appears to be the de facto general manager as well as the head coach. Nothing’s gone particularly well with this team since he took over.
Let’s just say that something closer to the ‘worst case’ seems rather more realistic than the ‘best’.