The Atlanta Dream have reached three WNBA finals since drafting Angel McCoughtry with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, but they’ve been swept out of the championship round each time.
With new coach Michael Cooper in the fold, the defending Eastern Conference champions begin their quest for that elusive title Friday night against the visiting San Antonio Stars.
McCoughtry led the league in scoring for the second straight season in 2013, averaging 21.5 points as the Dream finished 17-17 before falling to Minnesota in three games in the finals.
That defeat led to the firing of coach Fred Williams and the return of Cooper to the WNBA after he coached Southern California the last four seasons. Cooper guided Los Angeles to back-to-back titles in 2001 and ’02 and went 167-85 in two stints (2000-04, 2007-09) with the Sparks.
Cooper said he’s made it clear to his players that he expects nothing less than a championship. The Dream also went to the finals in 2010 and 2011.
"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 won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers as a player.
Atlanta will have some new faces to go with McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza. It acquired guard Matee Ajavon from Washington as part of a three-team trade and added point guard Céline Dumerc, who led France to a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics.
The Dream also acquired four-time All-Star Swin Cash from Chicago on May 7 and drafted Shoni Schimmel with the eighth overall pick. Schimmel is Louisville’s second all-time leading scorer behind McCoughtry.
"We are thrilled to add an outstanding player like Swin to our roster," general manager Angela Taylor told the team’s official website. "She has consistently been an exceptional all-around player who can beat you several different ways. She will be a tremendous asset to our team and gives us another piece to the puzzle as we continue to strive for a WNBA championship."
San Antonio simply is happy to have a healthy roster after losing Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm to season-ending knee injuries on its way to finishing fifth in the West at 12-22.
Guard Danielle Robinson also returns after missing the end of last season with a knee problem.
"As excited as we are to have everyone back, it’s not the easiest situation to bring people back from injury when they’ve been away from the game for a period of time," coach Dan Hughes told the team’s official website. "We’re working really hard on going through the different stages where I think learning takes place, where chemistry takes place, where confidence in your body and your team’s system take place."
Danielle Adams, who averaged 14.4 points last season, again will start at center, and No. 3 overall pick Kayla McBride is expected to start in a three-guard lineup after she helped lead Notre Dame to the national title game.
"We got a player who understands how we want to play," Hughes said. "It’s been fun watching her. She’s soaking it up. I see her looking at the veterans. I see a player who is hungry to get better. She’s a good young player."
Adams scored a career-high 39 in a 97-68 victory over Atlanta on Sept. 15 as San Antonio earned a split of the season series.