Dream focused on long-term plans ahead of ‘unique’ draft

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Credit: Mingo Nesmith/Icon Sportswire

Credit: Mingo Nesmith/Icon Sportswire

Nicki Collen had a fairly cut-and-dried approach to drafting the Dream’s prospect a year ago. The draft-day gears locked in on either Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter or South Carolina’s Tyasha Harris.

ExploreDream 2021 season schedule

The team needed a franchise point guard. Carter, or the kid known as “Hollywood,” made her way to the Peach State.

After a 7-15 season in the Bradenton, Fla., bubble last season, Collen and her staff have another top selection at No. 3 overall, behind Dallas making the two opening selections. This time, however, the circumstances for the Dream are vastly different. There are many routes the franchise can take ahead of Thursday evening’s WNBA draft (7 p.m., ESPN). The Dream also hold second- and third-round selections at 15th and 27th, respectively.

The Dream remain in exploratory mode as the selection draws closer. They’re continuing to meet as a staff to discuss the options, which could include trading the pick for future assets, as the Dream have six major free agents — including long-time veterans Tiffany Hayes and Elizabeth Williams — entering the 2022 campaign.

“We tend to feel like at noon on Thursday, we want to be locked into ‘Plan A,’ ‘Plan B’ and ‘Plan C,’ depending on what Dallas does ahead of us,” Collen said. “Until we know what they’re doing, we have to be prepared for different scenarios.”

Unlike last year’s draft, there aren’t standout prospects such as Carter, Sabrina Ionescu or Lauren Cox. Texas’ Charli Collier is expected to be the top choice by Dallas, but the following selections likely won’t feature an instant star in the league. Some of the prospects who could be available for the Dream include Ariella Guirantes from Rutgers, Tennessee’s Rennia Davis or international prospect Awak Kuier out of Finland.

Collen’s work for the Dream’s first-round selection entails more depth than it did a year ago. She’s talking to more potential draftees and their coaches. The Dream are holding staff-wide Zoom meetings with players to see if they can handle rapid-fire situations from a variety of coaches. Collen is in search of a prospect who fits the standard for character, leadership and willingness to view the big picture ahead of their first WNBA season.

“You’d love to know that there’s a player at 3 who can immediately impact you,” Collen said. “This is a unique draft. There aren’t a lot of no-brainers. There’s this advantage-disadvantage with each one.”

The Dream find themselves in an advantageous spot at No. 3, whether they decide to draft or trade the pick. Collen realizes that the Dream have players at every position, and even have depth at point guard behind Carter, after signing Odyssey Sims from the Minnesota Lynx out of free agency. There’s not a specific need for a guard, small forward or a stretch power forward, though the Dream do see the benefit in drafting a bigger wing such as Davis to add more size at the position behind Shekinna Stricklen.

Collen wants a delicate balance of a player who can develop and make contributions as a rookie, but also put the Dream in a beneficial spot if they were to lose free agents — which is a possibility given the salary cap under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — ahead of next season.

A lot of options rest in front of Collen, her staff and general manager Chris Sienko. A point guard would be a security blanket if the Dream can’t re-sign Sims next offseason. There are six guards on the Dream’s 13-deep training-camp roster that has to be trimmed ahead of the season opener May 14 vs. Connecticut.

The Dream could use a shooter to bolster their 3-point shooting. They could fill the size gap with Davis or a similar prospect. Any draft capital acquired in a trade can only be for the 2022 offseason, according to Her Hoop Stats.

In many ways, the long-term approach lessens pressure because not everything has to go right to round out the 2021 cycle after a strong free-agency period. The lack of a standout player on the draft board, however, enhances some stress.

“We’re really into who is going to see this as an opportunity to grow rather than be thrown into the fire,” Collen said. “I’m not sure there are a lot of picks in this draft that are going to get thrown into the fire based on the league in general.”

Which move will the Dream make? A slew of looming free agents for a franchise trying to compete makes for a difficult answer.

It’s not as cut-and-dried as it was a year ago, but a down-the-road approach could play into the Dream’s favor.

“You want to have the right pieces going forward,” Collen said. “More than likely, we’d be grooming for what happens for 2022.”

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