By Sydney Gibbs
The Atlanta Dream 2019 season was a disappointment to say the least. It was a season defined by offensive struggles, a lack of effectiveness, and defensive inconsistencies. The Dream won just eight games and finished the season last in the league ––– their worst performance since the team’s inaugural season back in 2008. However, the 2020 season won’t be even remotely similar to 2019 for a variety of different reasons.
“Every season is a new season, you can’t rest on your accolades from the season before,” said head coach Nicki Collen. “We made a lot of changes in the offseason to kind of give us a fresh start here in Atlanta. We’re really focusing on the day to day, focusing on getting better, and how to win one game at a time.”
In order for the 2020 WNBA season to take effect, all 12 WNBA teams have relocated to a single site in Bradenton, Florida at IMG Academy. The regular season has been redesigned to include an abbreviated 22-game stretch starting on July 25 –– all to be played without any fans.
A handful of players have decided to opt out due to health concerns involving the coronavirus and/or resume their battle against racial injustice. Among those sitting out are the Dream’s very own, Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery –– both of whom accounted for a portion of the team’s identity on offense. Atlanta made some significant offseason moves to help overcome the absence of Hayes and Montgomery, while also attempting to reestablish themselves as a franchise.
This 2020 Atlanta Dream team is not the same one from a year ago. Monique Billings and Elizabeth Williams are the only two returning players from last year’s team. In the offseason, the Dream signed a strong group of veterans in Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen, Alexis Jones, Courtney Williams and Betnijah Laney with the likes of some young talent like Blake Dietrick, Kalani Brown, Jaylyn Agnew and Erica McCall. Atlanta also picked up a couple of standouts in this year’s draft, Chennedy Carter and Brittany Brewer. With numerous new pieces aiming to revitalize this Atlanta Dream team, it could either be a recipe for disaster or success.
With the massive amount of roster turnover in the offseason, the development of the team’s chemistry is the biggest question heading into the regular season.
“It’s going a lot better than expected,” said forward Monique Billings. “I really didn’t know what to expect but we’re gelling (together) a lot. Everybody wants to learn. We’re a completely new team so we have to learn each other and learn how to fit into a new system. If everyone keeps that attitude then everything will keep going smoothly.”
The pace of the preseason is moving along faster than what it’s traditionally accustomed to. With the majority of the roster being new and learning out how to be a cohesive unit, it’s going to be a process.
“With so many new players you kind of have to figure out how everyone plays,” said guard Jaylyn Agnew. “That first week we were trying to see the strengths and weaknesses of everyone and how they can benefit us the most. Going into scrimmages, having a better feel for that has been super good. We’ve had great energy, great communication and pace so we’re gelling really good right now.”
There’s a level of uncertainty regarding this newly constructed Dream roster that has spectators on the edge of their seats not knowing what to expect in the next few days when the season begins. Billings recounts her rookie season back in 2018, when everything was brand new. A new coach, a new system, and a new team –– which is all too similar to what is transpiring now. She plans to approach this season with the same energy and attitude.
“We have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People are doubting us and counting us out,” said Billings. “We just have to take every game one game at a time but definitely by having that chip on our shoulder. It’s just the rebuilding phase.”
The Dream’s season tips off on Sunday, July 26 against the Dallas Wings at 5pm ET on CBSSN. To conclude the month of July, Atlanta will matchup against the Las Vegas Aces on July 29 and the New York Liberty on July 31.