Where do the Dream go from here? Three tasks ahead of the offseason

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

It happened again.

The Dream had the chance to regain possession with about four seconds remaining and down two points on the Dallas Wings’ home floor. Dallas missed the shot, and the Dream’s bench went crazy trying to call a final timeout to advance possession.

The Dream couldn’t hold onto the rebound, however, and the Wings grappled for the ball as the final seconds faded away. Yet again, the Dream were a play away from a victory and couldn’t pull it out. Interim coach Darius Taylor attributed the loss, their 11th consecutive, to the Wings to “execution issues.”

The Dream fell to 6-20 and last place in the WNBA behind the lowly Indiana Fever. Taylor and his players spoke to reporters in a state of shock and sadness because they’ve noticed the team’s improvement and the close margins of defeat. A win has yet to come since June 29. Three of their past six losses have been by no more than five points. Two others were by seven.

“We do a little bit extra, and we win,” guard Courtney Williams said. “This one definitely hurt.”

The Dream’s injury report continues to swell. Veteran guard Tiffany Hayes is continuing to battle a knee ailment, so the Dream essentially are playing with seven healthy players. The production from the newcomers that the team signed, including former All-Star Candice Dupree, has been limited because of injury and a rotation that’s shortened by necessity.

The answer of how the Dream can get over the proverbial hump isn’t so straightforward.

“We’ve improved in a lot of measurable areas,” Taylor said. “We don’t have the same weapons we had in the first half. … We don’t have the finishers that some other teams have. We’re finding ways to stay in games, but we don’t have those options.”

With six games remaining on the schedule, the playoff dreams have flown away. The Dream simply are seeking to win a game for morale and to validate the improvements that no one sees. It’s also a chance to look forward to the 2022 season, where the team will have to make a lot of changes because of contract situations.

Ahead of the offseason, here are three things the Dream need to address.

The Chennedy Carter situation

On Saturday, two months will have passed since second-year guard Chennedy Carter’s suspension after a verbal altercation against the Las Vegas Aces on July 4. The decision was made by the players and coaches, and Carter hasn’t been with the team since.

The Dream were 4-1 with Carter in the lineup, so they’re clearly improved with the do-it-all scorer and ballhandler in the starting five. Carter missed games with a sprained elbow and the ongoing suspension, and the Dream are 2-19 in those contests.

“There’s no update on Chennedy,” Taylor said Friday. “She’s continuing to progress and work.”

The Dream find themselves in limbo with Carter. Those who have spoken on-the-record about Carter’s status state that she’s “working with ownership,” which would indicate that the group of Suzanne Abair, Larry Gottesdiener and Renee Montgomery have requirements that Carter must meet. It is unclear whether she has checked any boxes, but Carter is away from the team, and her social-media activity over recent weeks hasn’t shown any on-court work.

The Dream would be at an obvious disadvantage if it had to move on from the fourth overall selection of the 2020 draft. The team didn’t make a move ahead of the Aug. 21 trade deadline, but it remains an option to trade Carter or release her from her contract that runs through 2023 with a team option.

Aari McDonald’s development

The Dream could’ve gone many different directions a few months back. Former coach Nicki Collen insisted that the team didn’t have a true need this year in the WNBA draft and opted to go with Aari McDonald with the third overall selection.

Months later, the team is counting its blessings for drafting a guard. Not only is Carter’s situation with the suspension uncertain, but the team’s three leading backcourt contributors are soon-to-be unrestricted free agents. The Dream could enter an era without Courtney Williams, Tiffany Hayes and Odyssey Sims — who have led the team to their six victories — in 2022. McDonald would be the only viable option with a guaranteed spot entering free agency.

McDonald has progressively grown into a late-game role. She made a 3-pointer against the Wings on Thursday night that gave her team a legitimate chance at victory.

“She will flourish in this league,” Sims said of McDonald.

McDonald’s development includes becoming more of an attacking guard and playing with less hesitancy. The Dream could increase McDonald’s minutes over the final stretch for more repetition, and she will go overseas to play for Uni Gyor in Hungary over the offseason.

Whether Billings and Williams return

The Dream have seen an uptick in their frontcourt players since Taylor took over as interim coach. He made it a priority to feature the frontcourt more, and Monique Billings and Elizabeth Williams have seen increased production.

Billings has averaged 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds over her past four games, and the Dream have had a chance to win most of those contests. Williams, on the other hand, has performed well on defense after having an unusually quiet start to her season. She had four blocks each in recent games against Chicago and Dallas.

“I have to step up for my team,” Billings said. “I know that and want to do whatever is needed. I have to tap into a new level, and I have to stay focused. I have to tap into a whole new level, knowing that I can keep going and getting better.”

The only problem with their production is that the Dream might not be able to keep Billings and Williams. They’re both free agents, and Williams is unrestricted. Billings is an emerging, younger piece and might be vital to keep, but the duo anchors the team’s frontcourt and could be important pieces to a continuing rebuild.