In May, before the WNBA season started, there were a fair amount of good reasons to have doubts about the Atlanta Dream. The Chamique Holdsclaw situation was up in the air. There was the question of whether Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza would have 2010 performances as good as what they did in 2009.
When last we’d seen Shalee Lehning play – in the 2009 regular-season finale – she’d severely injured her shoulder and was forced to miss the playoffs. How strongly would she come back from the injury in her second pro season?
Would Iziane Castro Marques be able to produce offensively as well as she did in 2009? Could Armintie Price get back to the success she’d had her rookie season in Chicago? What about the backup centers? Alison Bales didn’t play in the WNBA in 2009; Yelena Leuchanka had played in only 10 WNBA games previously, split between 2006 and ’07.
Kelly Miller’s scoring, rebounding and assist averages were all virtually cut in half from 2008 in Phoenix to 2009 in Minnesota. And while it seemed logical, really, that Kelly and twin Coco would be reunited eventually in the WNBA, would they offer enough as a duo to really help Atlanta?
See, it really wasn’t that hard 3 1/2 months ago to look at the Dream and think the only sure thing was Angel McCoughtry, who was last season’s rookie of the year and seemed highly unlikely to have any kind of “sophomore” slump. It’s not to say that before the season began that nobody could have envisioned Atlanta as one of the representatives in the Eastern Conference finals. It’s that there seemed to be quite a few obstacles to that. For what it’s worth (nothing), in my ESPN.com preseason predictions, I put Atlanta fifth.
Yet here we are three days into the WNBA postseason, and the first franchise to have moved on is the Dream, 2-0 winners against No. 1 seed Washington. And as No. 4 Atlanta ran up and down the Mystics’ hopes in Game 2, former Mystics and Dream player Chamique Holdsclaw was in the NBA-TV studio and gave her analysis.
What she said, not surprisingly, seemed pretty spot-on – clearly, she knows both franchises well, having played for them. But, still, didn’t it seem just a little weird to see Holdsclaw praising the Atlanta team that she refused to report to this spring?
The Dream said they tried to accommodate the needs of Holdsclaw, who had returned from her WNBA “retirement” to play with Atlanta last season. She had dealt with a knee injury that limited her in 2009. She played in only the first of the Dream’s two playoff games last season, and was limited to three points in 13 minutes.
That ended up being her last action in a Dream uniform. Even though Atlanta seemed a really good fit for her, she wasn’t happy with the organization and insisted upon a trade. When the Dream could find no one who wanted to deal, Atlanta waived her. San Antonio, needing interior players but betting they didn’t have to trade for Holdsclaw because Atlanta would have to just let her go, then signed her.
The Dream, frankly, did not seem to miss her. Meanwhile, Holdsclaw definitely filled a hole for the Silver Stars and has publicly praised the organization. But she hasn’t been able to help them, either, this postseason because of the torn Achilles’ tendon she suffered Aug. 15.
At any rate, Holdsclaw seemed sincere in complimenting the Dream players in their victory over Washington, and there was probably no reason to doubt that. And she isn’t alone among players who’ve insisted upon trades … although her demand came after just one season.
In July, Holdsclaw won the annual Dawn Staley Community Leadership award for the work she’d done in Atlanta in 2009. Clearly, she had positively contributed to the city there, and to the team.
Yet with the Dream having a well-deserved celebration after sweeping Washington, one couldn’t help but think that it’s a shame that – for a variety of reasons – we really haven’t seen Holdsclaw partake in many triumphantly joyful moments in her pro career.
She still has a chance to do that. But even “less-severe” Achilles injuries, such as what Holdsclaw has, require significant rehab. And at 33, she has to decide how much more she wants to do in basketball. If she is healthy and wants to play, it would seem likely the Silver Stars would want her back.
Holdsclaw made the choice to demand to leave the Dream. And even had she stayed with Atlanta, there’s just as likely a chance she would have been hurt while competing for Atlanta and not had the opportunity to play in Friday night’s game.
Still, there seemed something wistful about it. The Dream going to the East finals, the Silver Stars and another of Holdsclaw’s former teams, the Sparks, still battling in the playoffs … and Holdsclaw just watching.