Dreaming of a Fresh Start: Atlanta Dream New Hires

The Atlanta Dream officially named Tanisha Wright as their new head coach on Oct. 12 after two interim coaches led the team through a challenging and low-record season. 

Wright comes from the Las Vegas Aces, where she served as an assistant coach this season under head coach Bill Laimbeer. She has approximately four years of coaching experience, spending three seasons as an assistant coach for UNC (2017-2021) and joining the Aces in 2020 and 2021. 

Wright is a former WNBA player who spent 14 years in the league and went on a championship run with the Seattle Storm in 2010. She played 10 seasons with Seattle, three with the New York Liberty and one season with the Minnesota Lynx. Wright is a seven-time All-Defensive honoree and is one of 10 players to log 3,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,200 assists.

Former NCAA and WNBA coach Carolyn Peck vouched for Wright during the halftime show of Game 2 of the finals: “Bill Laimbeer has really positioned her for this time.”

Peck spoke about Wright’s responsibilities of taking on scouting reports and running practices for the Aces, complimenting her leadership and relationships with the players.

“In talking to players after maybe they had a bad game, ‘How did you bounce back?’ and they talk about, ‘Well Tanisha said this, and Tanisha said that,’ so she has the trust of the players as well.”

Reflecting on her time playing with Wright in Seattle, four-time champion Sue Bird also noted that Wright is a consistent and extremely loyal person, which are just two of many reasons why she’s perfect for the job.

Wright succeeds interim coaches Mike Petersen and Darius Taylor, who guided Atlanta to an 8-24 record this past season. The Dream have remained in 10th place or lower at the end of the regular season for the past three seasons. While they gained recognition for their activism and pushing the vote for Georgia during the Wubble, their play hasn’t been on the same level. Over the past three seasons, the Dream’s stats have been relatively similar, but their floor chemistry and organization have been lacking cohesion.

The team dealt with altercations on and off the court that hindered their development this season. Guard Chennedy Carter was suspended indefinitely back in July for conduct detrimental to the team, and two players—Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford—will not return next season following other, unrelated detrimental conduct

 

Additionally, the Dream were without a general manager until recently. Two-time WNBA Executive of the Year Dan Padover was hired on Oct. 25 along with former interim coach Taylor as his new assistant. 

Padover brings valuable experience to Atlanta as he has spent time with the New York Liberty and led a successful Las Vegas Aces team to two consecutive seasons of top two seeding, during which Aces players won or were in contention for MVP and Sixth Woman of the Year awards. 

Furthermore, with Wright and Padover’s relationship forming prior to their gigs in Atlanta, they understand each other well. After knowing Wright for seven years,  Padover remarks on having an established level of trust with one another and compliments Wright’s leadership qualities. 

“She’s just a really good person that really wants to move this game forward for those players that did that for her before she got here.”

One of the biggest tasks when pairing both a new head coach and GM is finding people who share the same vision. With Padover promoting Taylor to assistant general manager, Taylor will be able to break down the culture of Atlanta and can really be an asset and anchor to Padover and Wright. Fortunately, all parties are on the same page about the Dream’s direction.

“We want to get Atlanta back to that sustained success,” said Padover. “We want to bring energy, and we also want to make sure it’s something the city of Atlanta will be proud of.”

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Overall, the organization dealt with a divided locker room, a lack of identity and no true sense of leadership that combined for a low-performing and disappointing 2021 season. 

However, with a new GM, head coach and cap space to spread around, the Dream’s rebuild season is now underway.  

Atlanta has a chance to reinvigorate their franchise with a fresh start during free agency. Players Aari McDonald, Tianna Hawkins, Chennedy Carter and Cheyenne Parker are set to return next season as the only players from the 2021 roster under contract. On top of that, five league MVPs—A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles—are all free agents along with a heap of other players.

After revamping their roster, Atlanta will need to focus on refreshing things on the court and in the locker room. Wright’s background as a strong defensive player and passer gives her an edge on how to improve Atlanta’s overall scheme. On top of that, she studied under one of the most respected coaches of the league immediately after retiring from the game, which will help her relate to the players. 

Even so, Wright will be inheriting a tall task. As the new resident head honcho, she will need to build up team morale and instill trust between players. 

Like this year’s Dallas Wings and New York Liberty teams, the Dream will be establishing a new culture and playing style in 2022. As one of the hottest markets in the league and industry at large, Atlanta is on the brink of something special. Optimism is on the rise for this squad who could use a happy dream.

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