Dream hire Aces assistant Tanisha Wright as head coach with roster in flux

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Tanisha Wright will be the Atlanta Dream's next head coach, the team announced on Tuesday. Wright recently served as the assistant coach for the Las Vegas Aces. 

“It’s an honor to be chosen as head coach for the Atlanta Dream, and I’m excited to play a role in building a successful organization centered around the player experience,” Wright, the fifth coach in franchise history, said in a release. “I have been part of championship teams and understand what it takes to win in this league. I look forward to bringing my talents to this franchise and helping the Dream achieve success.”

Wright has 14 years of experience in the league, including a decade playing for the Seattle Storm where she won the 2010 WNBA championship against the Dream. She joined the Aces' coaching staff in 2020 under head coach Bill Laimbeer and helped the team to the 2020 Finals, where they were swept by the Storm, and 2021 semifinals, where they lost a tight Game 5 to the Phoenix Mercury last week. 

“Known for her defensive mindset, emotional intelligence, and grit, we are beyond thrilled that Tanisha Wright is joining the Atlanta Dream,” team owner and chairman Larry Gottesdiener said in a release. “Tanisha demonstrates a rare depth of character that is inspiring, and we can’t wait to see the positive impact she will have on this team.”

Said co-owner Renee Montgomery: 

“Tanisha is widely respected across the league, and as with all great leaders, she will set a strong example for our team.”

The Dream are in desperate need of leadership after the change in team ownership, firing of the general manager and usage of three head coaches in the span of the 2021 campaign. 

Dream turmoil over last 12 months

The Dream played through a tumultuous 2020 season in which their then-owner, former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler, spoke out against the league's support of Black Lives Matter during a re-election bid. The league put its weight behind Sen. Raphael Warnock in the election, and helped shift control of the senate to the Democrats.

In February, the league announced a new ownership group had bought the Dream consisting of Gottesdiener, Suzanne Abair and Montgomery. None have prior sports ownership experience, so it has been likely a learning curve for the group.

One week after the 2021 WNBA draft, and less than a month before the tipoff of the regular season, the team fired general manager Chris Sienko. Head coach Nicki Collen abruptly exited 12 days before the season to take the head coaching job at Baylor after Kim Mulkey. Assistant Mike Petersen stepped in, though he said off the bat he wasn't interested in it long-term, and later stepped back down in July for "health reasons."

Assistant coach Darius Taylor served as head coach for the final two months of the year. The team finished 8-24, second-to-last in the standings. 

Free agency decisions await 

The Dream have a busy offseason ahead of them with only five players signed to contracts for 2022. Cheyenne Parker, who took off 2021 to have her first child, is the only player on a protected contract, via Her Hoop Stats.

Tianna Hawkins, Chennedy Carter, Aari McDonald and Maite Cazorla, a 2019 draft pick who sat out the past two seasons while back home in Spain, are all on unprotected contracts. 

Their two top scorers, Courtney Williams and Tiffany Hayes, are unrestricted free agents. They and Carter, who was suspended for half the season, were the only ones to average double-digit scoring. 

Marcus Crenshaw of The Fam Sports Agency said the team told him they won't be re-signing Williams nor Crystal Bradford after a video of them fighting near a food truck spread across social media. 

Chemistry a must for Dream roster rebuild 

Tanisha Wright
Tanisha Wright will have a lot on her plate as the new Atlanta Dream head coach. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

A lack of players on guaranteed contracts might be a good thing for the new leadership group in charge of bringing the Dream back to the WNBA playoffs. 

Carter, the fourth overall pick in the 2020 draft, missed much of the season after being suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. The Dream have not said anything else about it. 

The Next reported that Carter was heated after a player tried to talk to her during a first-quarter timeout against the Aces in a July game. There were also reports of an altercation between players, with some saying it was between Carter and Williams. Petersen, still coach at the time, only said "it's something we're dealing with and that's all I can say." 

Williams had reportedly already been in her own trouble, though it didn't go public until this month. Williams shared a video on her YouTube channel of her, Bradford and former teammate Kalani Brown fighting people outside of a food truck. She made light of it, but also said she was defending herself. 

Their agent said this month it occurred in May and Williams didn't think it would get her into any trouble because the Dream had previously addressed it and slipped it "under the rug." 

Montgomery finally addressed the incident while appearing on the ESPN halftime show during the WNBA semifinals and said the WNBA and players association are looking into it. She said they were only shown a 10-to-15-second clip of the incident with no context and chose to believe their players. 

Beyond that, the Dream have only said they are aware of it and looking into it. There are clearly decisions to make, and the team still has to hire a general manager. 

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