Atlanta Dream players begin offseason after eight-win season

Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes (right). AJC file photo.



Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes (right). AJC file photo.

As eight WNBA teams prepare for the playoffs, the Dream are one of the four that have already started the offseason.

Players began exit interviews and exit physicals after the team’s 71-63 loss to the New York Liberty on Sunday. Soon will come the flights overseas. Dream players are now preparing for their “second season,” as they head across the world to play for more lucrative paychecks.

The Dream will have three players in Spain (Tiffany Hayes, Brittney Sykes and Maite Cazorla), two players in Turkey (Elizabeth Williams and Nia Coffey) and Marie Gülich in Poland.

Angel McCoughtry is still recovering from a 2018 knee injury that cost her the 2019 season, Renee Montgomery will stay stateside and Alex Bentley, as of Sept. 5, did not know where she’d be playing. The AJC wasn’t able to confirm whether Monique Billings and Alaina Coates would play overseas, and if so, where.

Offseason goals

Hayes carried a birthday gift from a fan as she left the Dream locker room following her exit physical. Hayes’ 30th birthday is Sept. 20, and she’ll already be in Spain by then, gearing up to play for Avenida.

Last season, she was coming off of an All-WNBA season and  a run in the WNBA semifinals. But this year she battled numerous injuries (one knee kept her out of the Dream’s final three games, the other knee is now bothering her, she had an early-season ankle injury, and there’s something she’s dealing with on her hand). Her priority for the offseason is getting stronger.

"I'm just trying to be healthy next year, the whole year," said Hayes, who's been with the team since 2012, which is the longest of any player other than McCoughtry. "So I think as far as that just being stronger, getting in the weight room or just doing the little things to make sure that when I come back, I don't have those little nagging injuries and all that stuff."

She increased her scoring averages in each of her previous seven seasons with the Dream, but dropped to an average of 14.7 points per game in 2019, which led the team. Overall, the Dream averaged 71.2 points per game this season, an average of 10 points lower than 2018, and their offensive rating of 91.6 ranked last in the league.

Collen said no player on the 2018 team who also played in 2019 had better statistics year over year. “So, when one person was struggling, we didn’t consistently have three or four others kind of raising their game to make up for that,” she said. “We tended to struggle as a group.”

During player exit interviews, according to Collen, Dream staff share areas where they feel players need to make improvements during the offseason. But with players in different countries and leagues, there’s no way to guarantee that a player will have the time, opportunity and space to make those improvements a reality.

Without a true offseason, there are also concerns of the wear and tear of players’ bodies as WNBA starters take on hefty loads abroad. Hayes did two-a-days last offseason in Poland. Williams averaged 34.4 minutes a game last year in Turkey.

“For example, Elizabeth is going to go play for Fenerbahce in Turkey,” Collen said. “And my hope is that, you know, they don't run her into the ground, like a lot of the teams do over there.”

Following the players

During the offseason, after Williams is done with practice and games, she’ll stay up late to take and organize meeting minutes as secretary of the WNBA’s players’ association and vote on league proposals as a member of the executive committee. The player will continue to work with the league to decide on a new collective bargaining agreement as free agency approaches in January.

“We can focus more on it, obviously, without the games and stuff in the way,” Williams said. “So we'll probably have more calls and more meetings, which is nice. We're down into the nitty-gritty just because of the timing of negotiations.”

Hayes and Cazorla will be teammates. Cazorla was born and raised in Spain, and this offseason will mark the longest amount of time she’ll spend near her family since she moved to Oregon four years ago. It’ll be Hayes’ first time in the country.

“I'm excited that she's gonna come to my country and show her my country,” Cazorla said with a laugh. Hayes said she’ll teach Cazorla how to drive and wanted Cazorla to teach her Spanish.

Nia Coffey, who transitioned from power forward to small forward last season and wants to develop fully into a WNBA guard, said her offseason goals include improving her 3-point shot, which she worked on this season with Dream assistant coach Mike Petersen.

“Sometimes it's difficult because I usually play different positions overseas,” Coffey said. “But in this case, I think I'll be playing a similar position. I think I'll be able to extend my game beyond the 3-point line, maybe post up, I think I'll be able to play like my full game on this team. So I'm looking forward to that.”