Last season, the overhaul of the Atlanta Dream was more successful than could have been imagined. Not only did new general manager Dan Padover trade up for the No. 1 pick to select Rhyne Howard, who immediately emerged as a budding superstar, but he also made an excellent head coaching hire, with Tanisha Wright instilling a culture of accountability and inspiring evident buy-in from up and down the roster.
The Dream entered the 2023 free agency period with $942,916 in cap space, the third-largest amount in the league.
Padover, Wright and company thus have options. They are able to consider several different paths in preparation for the 2023 WNBA season. Will Atlanta aim to take a substantial step forward, bringing in proven, win-now players in hopes of securing the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2018? Or, will the organization opt for a slower build toward playoff contention, surrounding Howard with a younger roster?
By the numbers*
Free agent (type) (2022 salary)
- Tiffany Hayes (suspended/contract expired) ($215,000)
- Erica Wheeler (unrestricted) ($185,400)
- Monique Billings (unrestricted) ($140,000)
- Nia Coffey (unrestricted) ($130,000)
- AD (reserved) ($68,260)
- Beatrice Mompremier (reserved) ($60,471)
Total average salary of free agents: $799,131
Total team salary: $738,795
Cap space: $681,705
Analysis: What has happened so far
Based on early trade activity, Dan Padover appears intent upon elevating Atlanta into a certified playoff contender.
On Jan. 13, Atlanta opted to exchange one of their young guards for a proven vet, sending Kristy Wallace to the Indiana Fever, where she will join new Fever head coach and former Dream assistant coach Christie Sides, and bringing Danielle Robinson to Atlanta. Padover, as well as Tanisha Wright, are familiar with Robinson from their shared time with the Las Vegas Aces.
BREAKING: The Atlanta Dream have traded Kristy Wallace to the Indiana Fever in exchange for Danielle Robinson, sources confirm to @Winsidr
— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) January 13, 2023
The move also signals the end of Erica Wheeler’s second stint in Atlanta, with the unrestricted free agent sharing that Dream decision-makers informed her they would not seek to re-sign her.
Major respect for T and Dan @AtlantaDream for calling me before today’s news! Forever grateful for my ATL family! One of the best ran franchise!
— Erica Wheeler (@EWeezy_For3eezy) January 13, 2023
In terms of the organization’s salary cap situation, Wallace’s $63,389 unprotected contract has been replaced by Robinson’s $155,000 protected contract, which ends after the 2023 season.
On the court, it is unclear if Atlanta intends to start Robinson, thus keeping Aari McDonald in the sixth-woman role in which she succeeded last season. Or, will McDonald claim the starting job, with Robinson serving as the steady, off-the-bench veteran?
However, it seems certain that the Dream will have a new starter on the wing, and she is a now-former Wing.
On Jan. 18, the Dream reportedly agreed to acquire Allisha Gray from the Dallas Wings in exchange for one of Atlanta’s first-round draft picks. Gray had requested a trade during the 2022 season. For the Georgia native, the relocation should be a perfect fit, both on and off the court.
An elite defender, Gray will combine with Rhyne Howard, as well as McDonald and Robinson, to form an intimidating corps of perimeter defenders that should be suited to execute Wright’s aggressive, high-energy system. Gray is underrated, and possibly has been underutilized, as both a scorer and playmaker on the offensive end. Encouragingly, she posted a career-best 3-point shooting season in 2022, suggesting she can also serve as a needed floor spacer for Atlanta. Gray is on a protected veteran contract of $169,600 for the 2023 season; she will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
After this pair of trades, the Dream, at least for now, are set for a 2023 team salary of $738,795, leaving $681,705 in available cap space. That’s more than enough to retain Tiffany Hayes, who, at absolute most, could command the supermax of $234,936. But that seems unlikely due to the addition of Gray and the conclusion of Hayes’ 2022 season. Because of her suspended contract situation, Hayes only can negotiate a new contract with Atlanta, suggesting that a sign-and-trade could be coming.
In short, the Dream are not done. Stay tuned!
Analysis: What we thought could happen
Although the WNBA Draft always includes a few surprise—if not shocking—selections, it seems relatively safe to assume that Atlanta will draft Stanford’s Haley Jones or Maryland’s Diamond Miller with the 3rd pick, whomever the Minnesota Lynx, owners of the No. 2 pick, do not choose. (Padover also should not hesitate to make a call to Lin Dunn, general manager of the Indiana Fever, just in case a package of anything-but-Howard could get Atlanta the No. 1 pick and the right to draft South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston).
Rostering the No. 3 pick, due a salary of $74,305, will have little impact on the organization’s acres of cap space.
Presuming the team ends up with a big wing in Jones/Miller to pair with Howard, the Dream should target guards and bigs in free agency, especially as plus-shooting and size were weaknesses for Atlanta in 2022.
Beginning with point guard, Aari McDonald and Kristy Wallace are under contract for 2023. After a rocky rookie season, McDonald began to blossom as a sophomore, demonstrating a more aggressive offensive mindset to go along with her defensive spunk as a sixth woman. Wallace also showed early-season promise, although her offensive confidence waxed and waned.
Is Atlanta satisfied with one of McDonald or Wallace as a full-time starting point guard? The answer could determine how the Dream approach the unrestricted free agency of Erica Wheeler. Less productive than she was in her final season in Indiana and lone season in Los Angeles, Wheeler did serve as a veteran leader. If the organization values Wheeler’s intangibles, it is possible they could sign her on a shorter-term contract with an average annual value less than her 2022 salary of $185,400, something Wheeler might be receptive to since she maintained an offseason home in Atlanta before a trade to the Dream last offseason.
Or, could Atlanta aim higher than a McDonald-Wallace-Wheeler triumvirate?
While Skylar Diggins-Smith’s status for the 2023 season is unclear, as she is expecting her second child, it does appear that her time as a member of the Phoenix Mercury has expired. Regardless of her readiness for the forthcoming season, might Atlanta explore acquiring Diggins-Smith? Could a Tiffany Hayes-SDS swap make sense for both teams? Diggins-Smith is under contract for one more season with the Mercury and owed $234,350 if she plays in 2023.
Hayes’ 2022 season with the Dream ended … oddly. After struggling with injuries, Hayes missed Atlanta’s final two games of the season due to “overseas commitments.” Because her contract was suspended at the end of the 2022 season, it remains so, meaning the would-be unrestricted free agent can only negotiate a new contract with the Dream. In 2022, Hayes’ salary was $215,000.
When Hayes suited up for Atlanta in 2022, she was excellent, alleviating the offensive burden otherwise foisted on Howard. While she certainly could complement Howard and Jones/Miller in 2023, a player of a different archetype could better balance the roster. Furthermore, Hayes is entering her 10th WNBA season and, although she has expressed pride in being a Dream lifer, joining a championship-or-bust squad in Phoenix could be appealing.
Whether or not Atlanta pursues such a league-shaking move, adding shooters who also possess playmaking and/or defensive chops should be a priority. In other words, players similar to AD, who proved a successful midseason addition in 2022. The Atlanta native is a reserved free agent. It should be expected that the Dream will re-sign them, with their history of injury and illness limiting them to an affordable annual salary around the veteran minimum of $74,305. In terms of a new acquisition, how about another Atlanta native in unrestricted free agent Lexie Brown, a defensive pest with a deep 3-ball who reemerged as an impact player for the Los Angeles Sparks last season? On a make-good, one-year deal, Brown earned $72,141 in 2022. For Brown or another desirable shooter, Atlanta can afford to slightly splurge, possibly offering a multi-year contract that comfortably exceeds the 2023 veteran minimum.
Yet, even more than they need to bolster their perimeter corps, the Dream need more size. Despite frequently being overmatched by opposing bigs, Cheyenne Parker put together an under-the-radar awesome season in 2022. She is entering the final year of a contract that will pay her $196,000 in 2023. Atlanta should look to find a frontcourt partner who likewise can provide outside shooting and low-post scoring.
An unrestricted free agent from Parker’s former team — the Chicago Sky — is the perfect candidate: Azurá Stevens. After amicably accepting an off-the-bench role for the 2021 WNBA champions in 2022, Stevens would be a bigger, more essential piece for the Dream, allowed to fully explore and expand her enticing skillset. Atlanta should eagerly throw all the money at the unrestricted free agent. While Stevens’ injury history is a bit concerning, her talent suggests a contract that approaches the max of $202,154 would not be absurd.
Even if the Dream ink Hayes and Wheeler to contracts comparable to their 2022 salaries, $215,000 and $185,000, respectively, the organization would have more than enough cap room to try to lure Stevens to Atlanta with a big number.
If the Dream cannot snag Stevens, bigs with similar—albeit (much) more limited—shooting-size skillsets that the team could look to sign for around the minimum salary include: Connecticut Sun restricted free agent Joyner Holmes, New York Liberty restricted free agent Kylee Shook, Las Vegas Aces unrestricted free agent Theresa Plaisance or Phoenix Mercury unrestricted free agent Megan Gustafson. Another pricier target could be unrestricted free agent Isabelle Harrison, who deserves a raise after earning $159,000 for the Dallas Wings last season.
Atlanta also can try to retain Monique Billings, who brings infectious energy and effort as an off-the-bench big even if her touch as a shooter is still lacking. A short-term deal with an average annual value that slightly exceeds her 2022 salary of $140,000 seems reasonable for Billings.
In all likelihood, Atlanta’s free agency will unfold much differently.
Considering how the pairing of Padover and Wright drastically has shifted the organization’s vibe and vision within a year, Dreams fans should feel confident in whatever direction is pursued. Hopefully, this exercise has highlighted the options — from major moves to smart additions on the margins — that are available. Blessed with oodles of cap space, Atlanta is only limited by their aspirations (and the agreeability of free agents and other organizations).
*All salary numbers come from Her Hoop Stats.