“This team did an amazing job of staying together,” coach Tanisha Wright said. “It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t frustration, but this team never folded. They never turned against one another.”
The Dream (19-21) posted their best record since their last playoff run. Guard Rhyne Howard, the 2022 Rookie of the Year, continued to impress as she averaged 17.5 points per game and 4.3 defensive rebounds. League veterans Cheyenne Parker and Allisha Gray powered the Dream as well, with each averaging more than 15 points per game.
Their play was one factor in the Dream’s return to the playoffs. Another was players growing up, Wright said. Players stepped out of their comfort zones, which she said fueled the growth and maturity of the entire team.
Howard was among those taking on new roles. She said she learned about herself as a leader this season as she became more vocal following the departure of veterans Erica Wheeler and Kia Vaughn.
This growth was on display in games, too – including a career-high, 43-point contest in July. General manager Dan Padover said he was impressed by her play, particularly on defense.
“We needed Rhyne to be (more) than just a scorer,” Padover said. “Rhyne stepped up and showed she could be a facilitator. She can be a defender. She can go grab a board. Seeing that was special.”
The Dream reached the playoffs despite going 3-8 in August. Padover called 2023 a “growing year,” saying the group stayed together amid the tough losses.
The Dream achieved their biggest goal of making the playoffs. What’s next from here?
Wright said she expects the team will learn from 2023, benefiting over the next three to four seasons.
“I’m grateful I can sit back and reflect on that, now that the season’s over, and say, ‘It’s going to make us better,’” Wright said. “The things that happened this year will make us better.”
Padover said he wants to continue to focus on the environment. He felt the atmosphere was one of the reasons the Dream was able to push past struggles in 2023.
“That’s one of our high points of our franchise,” Padover said. “People enjoy being here. People enjoy each other. They have fun every day, and not every locker room has that.”
He said he and Wright will reevaluate after the season to ensure the environment – from staffing to resources – is still meeting players’ needs.
More immediately, Wright and Padover plan to hit the road and evaluate college players. Padover said he plans to continue to take an aggressive approach toward the draft, free agency and the trade market. Growth and development among current players is important too, he said.
There’s also a new hunger among the players after reaching the playoff once, Padover said. Although the offseason lies before another push for the playoffs, players and staff already are motivated to ensure 2023 wasn’t an outlier.
“I’m as energized and excited as I’ve ever been for this team and what’s to come,” Padover said.