New coach Michael Cooper’s mission is to bring Atlanta the elusive championship.
Cooper won five NBA titles as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers. As a coach, he has won two WNBA titles with the Los Angeles Sparks and one NBA Development League championship with Albuquerque.
He said he has been “talking championship” from his first day with the Dream.
“I’m not going to shy away from that because I need our players to understand the steps you’ve got to take to become a champion,” said Cooper, who spent the last four years as the coach at Southern California.
The new coach inherits a strong nucleus led by two-time WNBA scoring leader Angel McCoughtry and longtime frontcourt starters Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle. Notable newcomers include veteran forward Swin Cash, who has won two WNBA titles, and rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel. Another key addition, guard Celine Dumerc, is expected to arrive from France in June.
Last year’s team was swept by Minnesota in the best-of-five finals.
Here are five things to know about the 2014 Dream:
RUN, RUN, RUN: Cooper, who makes frequent references to his days with the Lakers, says Atlanta’s version of Showtime will include lots of running. He said the up-tempo style should be a good fit with McCoughtry, who needed more help last season.
“I think Angel is going to like it even more because last year in the games I was watching, only two players ran, maybe three ran,” Cooper said. “Most of the time it was Angel out there running. Now when you have five players flooding the lanes, that’s going to open up a whole lot of opportunities for those short and intermediate-range jump shot.”
BAN ON BAD SHOTS: Cooper said he won’t tolerate McCoughtry’s tendency to abandon plays and settle for bad shots.
“I think the one thing she’s going to find that’s different is the days of just shooting it when I want to are gone,” Cooper said. “I think championship teams have to be disciplined and you have to work your offense and run your offense.”
A key for Cooper will be if McCoughtry, who led the WNBA with her average of 21.5 points last season, buys into his scheme.
YOUNG STAR: Cooper calls Schimmel, the first-round pick from Louisville, “Showtime Shoni.”
Native Americans call Schimmel their favorite player.
Schimmel was raised on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Mission, Ore. She isn’t expected to start in tonight’s opener against San Antonio, but due to her strong fan base, she’ll bring star quality to the league.
WINNING IS A HABIT: Atlanta, seeking its sixth straight playoff appearance, is the WNBA’s only team to finish at .500 or better each of the last five years.
Atlanta was swept in the finals in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
KA-CHING: Atlanta acquired Cash, a four-time All-Star, from Chicago in training camp. Cash, 34, won WNBA titles with Detroit and Seattle.
“The one thing I bring is I’ve been there,” Cash said. “I know what it takes to get it done.”
Cooper said Cash “can kind of pull it all together” as a respected team leader.