Atlanta Dream: Championship Quest Begins

Atlanta Dream Tiffany Hayes (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Atlanta Dream Tiffany Hayes (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Dream
Atlanta Dream Michael Cooper (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Dream have had an unbelievable season, now they embark on the quest for a championship as the WNBA Playoffs begin.

The 2018 WNBA regular season has been a remarkable one for the Atlanta Dream. It’s been a season of new beginnings, adjustments, reunions, extreme lows, and extreme highs. Through it all the Dream are the number two seed in the WNBA Playoffs. This gives the dream a double bye into the final four their best opportunity to reach the Finals since 2011. Let’s take a look at how the Atlanta Dream got to this position.

New Beginnings

The Atlanta Dream made a series of bold moves prior to the 2018 season to reshape their team. Free Agency was a major avenue used to revamp the team. The Dream signed key players, inking Jessica Breeland and Rene Montgomery. Both ladies have become starters and key cogs for the team.

Jessica Breeland was signed away from the Chicago Sky in Free Agency. The power forward really helped shore up the Atlanta Dream’s interior. She formed a dynamic duo with center Elizabeth Williams, as both women were top 5 in blocked shots for the WNBA. They were the only teammates in the top ten. Breeland finished the season third in Blocks, seventh in rebounding, and sixth in field goal percentage.

Renee Montgomery was signed as a Free Agent this past offseason. She was previously a member of the Minnesota Lynx. Renee brings championship experience, having won WNBA titles with the Lynx, as well as the Seattle Storm. She also won championships in college with the UCONN Huskies. Renee brought much-needed spacing to the Atlanta Dream with her deadly outside shooting stroke. She finished second in the entire WNBA in three-point field goals made.

Chris Royster and myself spoke with Atlanta Dream President Theresa Wenzel on our internet radio show “Around The Atl on imtmworldwideradio” and she offered these remarks about the new additions.

"“Nikki and our GM Chris Sienko really did a great job at getting both Jessica Breeland and Rene Montgomery, two pieces to the puzzle. You know Rene came from Minnesota where’s she’s won championships. Prior to that, she played at UConn so she knows how to win champions. Jessica Breeland was one of the best players in the ACC and at North Carolina, she went through her Senior season battling leukemia. Adding those two pieces were strategic for Nikki and Chris.” She knew that we had a strong roster"

Of the Atlanta Dream’s new acquisitions none were bigger than the hiring of coach Nikki Collen. Collen replaced the legendary coach Michael Cooper, who was let go after a less than stellar 2017. Collen was a curious hire, having never been a head coach previously  on any level. She only had three years of experience as a WNBA assistant with the Connecticut Sun. She had however been an assistant for 14 years in the college ranks. The hire paid huge dividends as Nikki Collen was recently named WNBA coach of the Year.

On Around The Atl, I asked Atlanta Dream President Theresa Wenzel, what qualities she saw that gave her the confidence to hire and she offered this:

"“I think one is Nikki’s personality, she can command a room. She is someone who is a student of the game, high basketball IQ. While she’s never been a head coach, she’s been at the top of the profession in what she’s done. I think for all of us, there is a first time with everything that we do. So we as an organization, we don’t shy away giving people an opportunity for the first time. And the credit really goes to our owners, because when they met with Nikki, they really felt strongly that she was the right person to move it forward. She has the personality, and the basketball IQ to do it. She’s does the preparation that it takes, to make sure the team is prepared for games. She’s also able to draw in free agents, as we’ve seen with Jessica Breeland and Rene Montgomery, as well as bringing Angel McCoughtry back with a lot of enthusiasm. I think our owners, who had other interviews, they felt a connection, and again they don’t shy away from giving someone an opportunity for the first time.” Nikki’s philosophy is a lot like Pat Summit, and a lot of other great coaches, in which (she believes) people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And so she really has put a tremendous amount of energy, into making sure that the players understand that she cares about them as people, first and foremost. The basketball stuff kind of falls into place. They’ve bought into her system, and of corse the results speak for themselves.”"