Michael Cooper has always made his own luck in his four years as head coach of the Atlanta Dream, and that doesn’t look to be stopping.
You might not know it, but 2017 will be Michael Cooper’s fourth season as Atlanta Dream head coach. Sometime in the middle of next year he will become Atlanta’s longest tenured head coach. Marynell Meadors lasted four-and-a-half seasons. There’s no reason for anyone to believe that Cooper won’t beat that record.
People don’t remember that Cooper left the Los Angeles Sparks on his own terms. In 2004 he left to take an assistant head coaching job in the NBA. He returned to coach three more seasons, then left again to take a head coaching job at USC. (The first time I met Coach Cooper I asked what he had learned at USC. He said he learned that college coaching was not his thing.) It would be hard for the Dream to hold any absences from the WNBA against him.
Feast and famine
The first of Atlanta’s head coaches was blessed by the alignment of the planets. The 2008 season was record-setting abysmal, but the wheels turned for Atlanta in 2009. The Dream selected Angel McCoughtry from Louisville in the draft who would soon turn out to be Atlanta’s all-everything player. Atlanta got Sancho Lyttle from the dispersement of the Houston Comets. Chamique Holdsclaw decided she wanted to play basketball again. (She had a good friend on the team.)
Atlanta feasted on that luck and turned it into three WNBA Finals appearances. Unfortunately, luck runs out after a while. When Cooper took control of the Dream, he only got one year of Erika de Souza before the wheels fell off the following season. Shoni Schimmel lost the battle between basketball and conditioning. Phoenix’s creative approach to personnel management led the WNBA to base draft position based on the previous two seasons’ record. The Dream traded Alex Bentley to the Sun, and Cooper watched helplessly as Bentley flourished in UConnville.
This year looks like more of the same. McCoughtry will definitely be out the first part of the season by her own choice and might be out all of it. The Dream face two years away from their home arena. Shakespeare would have said that the star in the Dream’s logo stands for “star crossed”.
No fate but what we make
Cooper made his luck despite a false start with the drafting of Samantha Logic in 2015. Now head coach and GM, Cooper worked Atlanta into a three-way trade that gained Atlanta Damiris Dantas from the Minnesota Lynx. Dantas had a good year in 2015 and despite taking a year off in 2016 she might be back in 2017.
Connecticut traded Elizabeth Williams for the Dream’s first round pick in 2016. The Sun picked Rachel Banham who was out for the season with micro knee surgery. Atlanta got 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game from Williams, whose 3.2 win shares were second only to Tiffany Hayes.
With the other pick in the first round, the Dream picked Bria Holmes, the highest ranked player in the 2016 draft not to be present at Draft Day. The West Virginia guard averaged over 20 minutes a game as a rookie and brought some defensive power to the Dream which was exactly what Cooper asked her to do.
Point guard has been a weak position for the Dream, despite players like Schimmel, Bentley, and others providing flashes of hope. Cooper got Layshia Clarendon from the Fever in exchange for a 2017 second round draft pick. Clarendon started 32 games at point guard for the Dream and had her best season in four years, hitting 46 percent of her shots. She’ll be around in 2017.
Furthermore, the Dream still have three picks in the 2017 draft, one in each round and four of Atlanta’s five starters return. Cooper knows, however, that team building never stops. With less than two months to go, expect Michael Cooper to do what do he does best – create his own luck.