Commentary

Will roster be Dream or nightmare?

Atlanta boasts plenty of talent, but mix of personalities must jell

Originally Published: April 9, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

How to put this optimistically? The Atlanta Dream might have a roster that could elevate the newest franchise into becoming a playoff contender in its second season.

How to put this pessimistically? The Atlanta Dream have left too much to chance with their mix of personalities, and might not have any true leader in that regard.

How to put this delicately? Is Marynell Meadors totally sure of what she's getting into here?

In Thursday's WNBA draft, Meadors chose Louisville's Angel McCoughtry with the No. 1 pick. That was certainly one of the directions everyone thought the Dream might go. In a conference call last week, a lot of what Meadors said seemed to indicate that McCoughtry would be her choice.

But there was a lot of chatter in the 24-48 hours before the draft about Atlanta's leaning more toward Connecticut's Renee Montgomery.

McCoughtry is a 6-foot-1 guard/forward who offers pro-level defense right away, plus rebounding and an ability to get to the rim. Her outside shooting has been more suspect, especially her final two years of college. But you're still talking about someone who averaged 23. 5 points per game this past college season.

Still, there was Montgomery's poise and leadership on a 39-0 team. Her ability to do everything you need from a point guard, and do it well. Plus the track record of UConn players in the WNBA -- it's exceptional.

It seemed like many folks thought, in the final analysis, Montgomery would end up proving too valuable to pass up for Atlanta. But the Dream went the other direction, because players of McCoughtry's skill level are also agonizing to bypass.

Admittedly, some people still have questions about McCoughtry. As much as she has worked on improving body language, facial expression and on-court demeanor, she still doesn't exactly have a poker face.

This isn't a criticism of McCoughtry. She's a mix of mercurial, theatric and passionate, and none of those things need be considered detrimental. Angel needs to be Angel. The issue is, will she fit in well with the mix of players that Atlanta expects to have?

The Dream are taking a gamble that Chamique Holdsclaw, who was the WNBA's No. 1 pick a decade ago, really is committed to playing a full season in the league again and will be at the top of her game. Holdsclaw "retired" from the game in June 2007 but then returned in December 2008 after a two-season hiatus. Atlanta acquired her from Los Angeles in exchange for the 13th pick Thursday.

Atlanta also signed free agents Nikki Teasley and Michelle Snow. Teasley didn't play last season as she gave birth to a daughter in June. Snow, who spent all seven previous WNBA seasons with now-defunct Houston, averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds last season.

One of the things that is very hard for an outsider to do with any team is guess how personalities will mesh. It's even difficult for those directly involved to know. In the case of the Dream, the team is in only its second season. And, obviously, McCoughtry, Holdsclaw, Teasley and Snow weren't there last year.

But if all four do indeed play together as expected, will they jell or will they get on each other's nerves?

Holdsclaw is one of the most talented players to ever compete in women's basketball. But she also has seemed to have somewhat of a lone-wolf personality. In her WNBA career, she left both the Mystics and the Sparks during the season. She has battled depression in the past, and you have to empathize with her in that struggle. But it's being neither unfair nor unkind to say we just don't know what to expect from her.

[+] EnlargeRenee Montgomery
AP Photo/Bill KostrounPoint guard Renee Montgomery, who led UConn to a perfect 39-0 season, went fourth overall to Minnesota.

Teasley had her issues in college at North Carolina, but that was a long time ago. She was able to fit in and be successful in her four seasons in Los Angeles. She then played two seasons in Washington, and I'm not sure I really want to judge anyone on how she handled the Mystics' circus.

Snow can be a strong defensive presence, and she has been consistent offensively in her time in the league. But she also still has that scowl that, if taken the wrong way by teammates, could be problematic.

What's also problematic is even trying to gauge any of this. Sometimes, players get along better and understand each other more than anyone outside the team could ever guess. And sometimes a group that looks like it would get along really doesn't. Until the Dream get into camp and start playing, it's impossible to tell.

But let's put that aside to evaluate McCoughtry individually.

During the course of the NCAA tournament, she mentioned that she'd heard a lot of people comparing her to Sheryl Swoopes. She's not old enough to have seen Swoopes' 47-point national championship game in 1993, nor did she watch enough of Swoopes during her best years of the WNBA to truly understand what a compliment that is.

One way for sure the two players remind me of each other is how they both have that instinctive ability to get in the passing lanes and turn steals into layups before the other team knows what hit it.

Swoopes had a purer stroke as a perimeter shooter, but McCoughtry is a bit taller and might rebound better at the pro level.

And as for McCoughtry's maturity and on-court demeanor, let's give her credit for how she has worked on it. It does matter a lot to McCoughtry to be respected for more than just her talent. She wants to be regarded as a dependable teammate and student of the game.

"I always thought I was a good teammate off the court -- someone who was funny and goofy, and that people liked being around me," she said. "But on the court, it was different. Because I didn't always know how to channel my energy and my anger, when things didn't go well, in the right way.

"I didn't realize people looked to me, and that how I said things wasn't always the appropriate way to say them. It took some growing up from me for people to respect me on court."

McCoughtry thinks that she has made significant gains in that regard, and the fact that she led Louisville to the program's first appearance in the NCAA title game gives credence to that.

"I feel like I can adjust to anything at this point," she said. "I can play with anybody, and I can be coached by anybody."

Also consider whom she looks to as one of her role models. A player who virtually always kept her cool on court, was a great teammate and leader, and who is now a top collegiate coach.

That's Dawn Staley, who coached McCoughtry a couple of years ago on the gold-winning Pan Am Games team.

"She taught me a lot and gave me so much advice," McCoughtry said of Staley. "I had so much fun learning from her. I admire her a lot. If she told me the sky was red, I would believe her."

McCoughtry likes to watch NBA star Dwyane Wade and model her game after his, and she's aware there are things she needs to improve now that she's a professional.

"I know the next level is more physical, and I have to get stronger," she said. "And another difference is you have to do the little things. If I can do those things that may not be on the stat sheet, that will help me help my team."

If McCoughtry -- taking that quick journey from college star to pro rookie -- can keep that attitude, she'll be doing her part to make the mix in Atlanta work the way Meadors is hoping it will.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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