Two teams dealing with the loss of key players meet when the Atlanta Dream visit the Connecticut Sun as both open their WNBA seasons Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Dream were hit hard by the loss of star Angel McCoughtry, as the two-time Olympic gold medal winner informed the team on Jan. 4 that she would be sitting out the coming season to rest.
There is a glimmer of hope she could return at some point, but the eight-year WNBA veteran, who is just 10 points shy of 5,000 for her career, said she needed the time.
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For the Sun, the loss came in the form of Chiney Ogwumike being sidelined for the season after Achilles tendon surgery. The 2014 Rookie of the Year missed the 2015 season with micro-fracture surgery on her right knee, then was named the Comeback Player of the Year last season.
The loss of the two players is the major reason the Dream and Sun are currently ranked ninth and 11th, respectively, in the WNBA.com power rankings.
“After much thought and consideration, I have decided to take some time off,” said McCoughtry, who followed what has become a disturbing trend in the league — players making bigger money overseas and then needing recovery time. “I know this decision will allow me to come back and play to the best of my ability.”
Ogwumike had a huge season in China and the Sun will miss the 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds she contributed last season.
“Battle scars come with the territory,” she said in a statement. “I firmly believe that every disappointment is a blessing because the person that emerges is stronger than before.”
Coach Curt Miller has ushered a new-look roster through a 3-0 preseason slate in preparation for the opener. Morgan Tuck (20 points in the final preseason game) and rookie Jonquel Jones have played well.
The Dream are three-time-defending Eastern Conference champs and sport the league’s 2016 Most Improved Player in Elizabeth Williams, who averaged 11.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks last season.
They also come in with former Connecticut star Tiffany Hayes, who scored 15 points per game during the regular season and ended her campaign with a 30-point game in her team’s playoff loss to the Chicago Sky.
The Sun have been dealing with a variety of roster issues, clearing a roster spot in a complicated payroll move and waiving 2013 All-Star Allison Hightower, who has been battling knee injuries and missed the last two seasons.
“We’d like to thank Allison for her contributions to the growth of the franchise during her tenure,” Miller said. “We wish her all the best in the future.”