Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery has adopted a vision for the revamped Dream that transcends the WNBA and even the gym.
While mingling with hundreds of Atlanta-based youth athletes for a day of drills, games and giveaways at Gateway Arena on Saturday, Montgomery had a moment of clarity for her long-term approach to the Dream’s rebuild inside and outside of competition.
“We don’t want to just only excel on the court — we want to excel in the community, we want to excel as an organization,” Montgomery told Just Women’s Sports during The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation’s Sports Matter Giving Truck #SportsMatterDay. “I love what DICK’s is doing getting in at the ground level, ages six through 18 are here, so that’s a large range of teenagers, kids, people that are trying to stay in sports, people that are trying to figure out if they want to be in sports.”
That ground-up approach has become familiar within the Dream organization.
A year after real estate developer Larry Gottesdiener bought the Dream from former owners Kelly Loeffler and Mary Brock, forming an ownership group with Montgomery and Suzanne Abair, the team overhauled its front office and roster this offseason.
“Everything’s new, literally everything is new, but that’s how you start over and that’s how you build,” said Montgomery, the first former WNBA player to become part owner of a franchise. “We wanted to build from the ground up and build a foundation, and so that was our whole intention this offseason.”
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Atlanta finished second-to-last in the WNBA last season with an 8-24 record and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season. It didn’t take long for Montgomery and the ownership group to start making their mark on the team’s direction.
In September, the Dream hired former NFL executive Morgan Shaw Parker as their President and COO. The next month, they named former WNBA player and Las Vegas Aces assistant coach Tanisha Wright as head coach. A couple of weeks later, they made arguably the biggest coup of all, hiring two-time WNBA Executive of the Year Dan Padover away from the Las Vegas Aces to serve as the team’s general manager.
“When we got the team last year, it was about 45 days before the season started, and we couldn’t really put our imprint on the team how we wanted to,” Montgomery said. “But now, a year later, we are really starting to see the Atlanta Dream we wanted to be.”
A critical element in the Dream’s rebuild this season is rookie Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2022 draft. Long considered to be one of the most pro-ready players in this year’s draft class, Howard led Kentucky to new heights and is already showing what she can bring to Atlanta, scoring 15 points on 50 percent shooting in her preseason debut.
The Dream also nabbed Michigan star forward Naz Hillmon with the 15th pick on draft night after she unexpectedly fell to the second round.
“We started out with the No. 1 pick with Rhyne Howard, and then we got the steal of the draft with Naz Hillmon, who has a motor, is a workhorse,” Montgomery said. “We were ecstatic. As it was getting closer and closer to our pick, we were holding our breath, and so really excited to get who we wanted to get.”
Montgomery believes Howard and Hillmon will be good fits on the court and in the locker room, where the Dream also have some rebuilding to do after a tumultuous 2021.
Last July, the Dream indefinitely suspended former No. 4 draft pick Chennedy Carter after an incident during a game against the Aces, which was later reported to be a verbal argument between Carter and Courtney Williams. As the episode hung over the team, Williams was at the center of a video that surfaced in October showing her and teammate Crystal Bradford throwing punches outside of an Atlanta club. The WNBA later suspended Williams and Bradford for their role in the fight, and all three players have since left the Dream.
With many new faces and more time to build, Montgomery is eager for Wright to make her mark on the team’s culture.
“Our goal was just to build a culture here with the Atlanta Dream, so we want great players, but we want great players that are also going to be aligning with our same views and values,” she said.
Atlanta hopes a fresh philosophy will lead to a better finish this season. Montgomery, however, isn’t letting the immediate results cause her to lose sight of the long-term mission.
“Of course we want to win, but for me, it’s how we are playing, how we are building this thing. Is there growth every week? Are we staying in the same spot? Those are the kind of things that I am looking to see from our team,” she said. “The wins and losses are going to take care of themselves at a certain point, but right now, we have to build this thing the right way.”
The Dream will play their final preseason game on Sunday against the Connecticut Sun before kicking off their regular season against the Wings in Dallas on May 7.
“I want people to understand that this is going to be a completely different experience than people have experienced before with the Atlanta Dream,” Montgomery said. “We really just expect people to visibly see the difference in what we are trying to build here with the Atlanta Dream.”
Clare Brennan is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.