It won’t be perfect, but Dream ready to start WNBA season

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Dream coach Nicki Collen talks about the start of the WNBA season in Florida and how she plans to prepare. (Video courtesy of Atlanta Dream)

The Dream’s Nicki Collen is about to coach a game without fans for the first time.

Then again, most everything about the coming WNBA season will be a new experience for coaches and players.

The WNBA announced Monday that the 2020 season will be held at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with all 12 teams in a bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was to start May 15, but shut down. Now, a 22-game regular season will begin in late July, after training camps, and continue through traditional the playoffs until a champion is crowned. It would mean a three-month stay in a hotel for the finalists.

Collen acknowledged Tuesday that while the league has taken into account safety concerns, the situation will not be perfect.

“Maybe I err on the side of understanding they’ve come to this conclusion with a lot of thought and a lot of perspective what was feasible medically and to do it safely,” Collen said. “I don’t think we are going to be put in a perfect situation. I think there will be a lot of sacrifices in the bubble. I don’t think it’s going to run smoothly because we are all going into an environment where some of the things we can plan for and some of them we can’t. I think we are going to have to be quick on our feet and figure things out.

“My goal is to know that I’m going in with 12 players who want to be there and view it as an opportunity and to support those if they have concerns, to support those who aren’t comfortable for whatever reason with going there. It’s not going to be easy. … But I’m grateful for the opportunity to coach again.”

Players will receive full pay and benefits during the modified season. They have until next week to inform the team if they intend to play. According to Dream general manager Chris Sienko and Collen, no player has yet to inform them of her intent not to play.

“It’s an exciting time, but there is a little bit of trepidation,” Sienko said. “You want to make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure that not only our athletes are safe but also my coaching staff is safe and people who are in that environment are safe. … I feel confident that we will be safe. … That is ultimately the priority is the safety for everyone involved.

“And then if everything goes well, we get to play some games, and that’s the exciting part of the summer for us. That’s what we work so hard to do in the offseason to prepare for this time.”

Collen doesn’t want to hear talk of an asterisk marking the abbreviated season. She pointed to the 1999 Spurs, who won the NBA title after a lockout delayed the start of the season until February. That started the hugely successful run for the Spurs.

Collen said it was not easy to get a roster of 15 and then trim it to 12 without a training camp. The moves were necessary because of the league’s collective bargaining agreement to start the pay cycle. However, the draft and free agency help with the anticipation that the league would eventually get back on the court.

There will be positives, Collen said. No travel. Three games a week will help with load management. She even has plans for a hot plate to make her hotel room more like a studio apartment.

“My goal is to be there 90 days because I want to play to a championship,” Collen said. “It might be a challenge, but it might be the team that accepts the challenge and not the team that on paper has the most talent that wins this season.”