How high will the Dallas Wings soar in 2023?

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What a season it was for the Dallas Wings in 2022.

Reports challenging the existence of a clear direction in team function between the front office and coaching staff were numerous. Amid the public turmoil, for the first time since relocating from Tulsa in 2016, the Wings played host in the playoffs, facing the Connecticut Sun.

Unfortunately, Dallas lost the game and eventually the series. Despite the rash exit from contention, an achievement of this magnitude for most organizations would call for pomp and circumstance. Instead, the Wings entered yet another offseason with more questions than answers across the board.

Vickie Johnson’s Gentle Firing

On Sept. 19, 2022, the Wings announced the 2023 team option on former head coach Vickie Johnson’s contract was not being exercised. In a press release, team president and CEO Greg Bibb said the move “provides our team with the best opportunity to achieve our long-term goals of advancing in the playoffs and ultimately competing for a WNBA Championship.”

Back in December 2020, Bibb told Dorothy Gentry of D Magazine: “Vickie was the right person to lead our team at this time. Someone who can relate to the players, who understands the challenges of the profession, and someone who knows how to develop the skill sets of young professional athletes.”

In two years, Johnson transitioned from being the best candidate to maximize the team’s potential to being portrayed as unable to rally her locker room.

Don’t get me wrong. Johnson’s shortcomings as head coach are not lost on me. In the same breath, effective, supportive, and inclusive leadership leaves little room for a gray area. From the outside looking in, it's fair to say she didn’t receive it as much as she deserved. In two seasons, Johnson went 32-36, with one win in two playoff appearances. The most recent came after the franchise’s first regular season finish at or above .500 for the first time in eight years. Let that marinate for a moment.

A .500 record being the second most successful season in nearly a decade is alarming at best and reprehensible at worst when factoring in the goldmine of talent that has strolled through the gates of DFW.

Dysfunction In the D

Johnson’s dismissal represented one of many chapters filed away in the well-documented dysfunction encompassing the Wings that is substantiated at every turn.

With former Sparks’ assistant Latricia Trammell now installed as the team’s head coach, Bibb is operating with his fourth coaching staff since becoming general manager in 2015. In sole possession of the keys to the franchise, the Wings are 92-134, and he is responsible for as many playoff wins as Johnson. Before winning Game 2 against the Sun, Dallas was tied for the longest postseason losing streak in WNBA history.

Bibb’s track record of mismanaging player personnel is a tale as old as time. After trading talented forward Azura Stevens to the Chicago Sky in 2020, she played a pivotal role in bringing the franchise its first championship in 2021. In 2018, Aerial Powers was sent packing to the Washington Mystics and the Wings practically received nothing in return. Powers won a title in 2019 and made it a mission to call out Bibb in the process. Feuds between star players and Bibb are nothing new. The names Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage ring a bell?

Gone is Gray

Midway through last season, Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports reported that Gray would remain with the Wings through the trade deadline, but was expected to be moved during the off season.

Well…the off season came and went and Williams was right on the money from the start. On Jan. 15th, Gray was traded to the Atlanta Dream. In return, Dallas acquired the third overall selection in April’s WNBA Draft and Atlanta’s 2025 first-round pick. Gray was the second-best player for the Wings last season, and they should’ve received more in the trade but situation and circumstance stand tall above all. After Gray’s request for a trade, “fair” negotiations were out the window.

New Frontcourt Fit

In a three-team trade, Dallas acquired forward Natasha Howard and point guard Crystal Dangerfield. Dallas dealt Kayla Thornton to the Liberty and backup point guard Tyasha Harris to the Connecticut Sun.

With Harris in Connecticut, the Wings needed depth at the lead guard slot and from what Trammell says about Jasmine Dickey and Dangerfield, they will anchor the second unit.

Howard, 31, is the gem of the off-season for Dallas mainly because of her experience, as well as witnessing what a successful franchise looks and feels like. As a three-time WNBA champion, two-time All-Star, and a former Defensive Player of the Year, she brings a level of success and maturity to the Wings that was sorely needed. As a dependable scorer, averaging a hair over 15 points in 35 games last season, Howard looks to be an upgrade at the starting power forward slot.

Howard donning a Wings jersey sent a clear message. Bibb prioritized acquiring an experienced power forward possessing the abilities to create their own shot and step out to the three-point line and defend the league’s best. That’s exactly what he got in Howard.

“Natasha is a three-time WNBA Champion who joins the Wings organization with an impressive WNBA resume, including both extensive and successful playoff experience,” Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb said in a statement. “On the court we are adding an all-star caliber player who is one of the premier defenders in the game. Off the court we are adding a veteran who has won on the biggest stage in the biggest moments. Rarely can you address as many needs in one transaction as we do with the addition of Natasha. We are excited to have her join our organization.”

When the trade was announced, my first thought was how it will impact star center Teaira McCowan’s development. Although inconsistent playing time in the first half prevented her from gaining a rhythm with the starters, the second half was a reminder of why Dallas traded multiple first-round picks for her talents.

In her first 19 outings last season, McCowan averaged 7.1 points on 63% FG while grabbing 4.8 rebounds. In the final 14, she led starting centers in PPG (16.3) while placing second in RPG (10), FG% (58.3),

With McCowan returning on a multi-year deal, her pairing with Howard in the frontcourt will represent a “pick your poison” scenario for opponents. Shooting a blistering 71% at the rim last season, Howard shares McCowan’s knack for scoring around the basket and does so with authority. Like Thornton, Howard can step outside and nail a three-pointer to space the floor around McCowan but what makes this duo’s potential so interesting is Howard’s ability to be a consistent three-level scorer.

After the team’s first preseason game, McCowan had this to say about her dynamic with Howard:

When it comes to defense this season, at a lengthy 6-foot-2, Howard can protect the rim as well as defend the opposing team’s best wing, an ability that was needed dearly last season from anyone besides the departed Gray.

It's not a stretch to say that this deal at face value was Thornton for Howard, and if that was the case, the Wings won this trade. This isn’t meant to denigrate the efforts of KT, who had a grand 2022 campaign. She had her best season from an offensive win-share standpoint (3.3) and her third-best scoring season (8 PPG), and without her, Dallas wouldn’t have won its first playoff game in 14 years. Still, Howard is a better offensive player with equal, if not better defensive tendencies.

Mabrey to Chicago/Diamond in The Rough

On Feb. 11th, Dallas acquired All-Star guard Diamond DeShields in a four-team trade involving the Chicago Sky, Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty.

The Wings also received the Sky’s first-round selection (fifth overall) in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Chicago’s first-round selection in the 2024 WNBA Draft and the rights to swap first round selections with Chicago in the 2025 WNBA Draft.

In the deal, Dallas sent fan favorite guard Marina Mabrey to Chicago. While she was second in scoring and first in assists on the team last season, there were always concerns about Mabrey’s play style, and it's fit in Dallas long term. A shoot first guard whose accuracy was spotty at best while lacking the ability to execute offensive actions consistently, it was clear the search for a true point guard was to be continued.

PG1 Veronica Burton

Last season, Wings point guard Veronica Burton played in 36 games with six starts to boot. She averaged 2.6 points per game, 1.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists with shooting splits of 32.9 percent from the field, 27.9 percent from the three-point line, and 100 percent from the free-throw line.

On Media Day, I suggested to Burton that her biggest improvement was her patience when handling the ball. When I asked her what she did in the offseason to aid her journey leading a WNBA offense, she had this to say.

“First off, thank you. I appreciate that. I give a lot credit to Coach Zac [Buncik] and our practice guys when playing 1-on-1. When I would do drills, whether I was going into a ball screen, I would do them with them picking me up at half court and beyond halfcourt. If I can stay poised against them when they’re quicker, more athletic, and speedier than I am...I know I’ll be fine in the W games. so that was a big point of emphasis.”

With stability under her belt as the unquestioned starting point guard, Burton has a blank canvas to create a new experience not only for herself but her team as well.

Roster finalized for 2023

The Dallas Wings finalized their roster yesterday ahead of the 5 PM Eastern deadline for the 2023 WNBA season.

With only 144 roster spots across 12 teams, it’s inevitable that talented college players are among those likely to be waived.

Such was the case earlier this week when the Wings announced that former Maryland co-captain and the No. 11 overall pick in the 2023 draft, Abby Meyers, was waived. In the first preseason game against the Chicago Sky, Meyers played a total of five minutes, was 0-1 from three, and committed one personal foul. Meyers played just one minute in the preseason loss to the Fever and scored zero points.

The team also announced yesterday that Charli Collier and Kalani Brown were cut as well. Collier, selected No. 1 overall in 2021, averaged 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9.4 minutes per game in 45 appearances for the Wings the past two seasons. She also started 18 games in 2021. Brown was a first-round draft pick in 2019, playing three years in the WNBA for the Los Angeles Sparks before leaving to play overseas this past year.

2023 first-round pick Lou Lopez Senechal, who made the roster, is out at least six-to-eight weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Diamond DeShields, who was expected to start the season, will be sidelined after suffering a knee injury.

With the injuries to DeShields and Lopez Senechal, and the team preparing to be without McCowan throughout June as she fulfills overseas obligations, this is quite the start for the first season as a head coach for Trammell. This is what she had to say to this as far as filling needs at certain positions and who will be looked at to pitch in.

“Everyone. I mean we’re down to, like I mentioned a while ago, 10 players. Teaira McCowan is going to leave here in a couple of weeks and be gone a month, we’ll be down to 9. So hopefully we’ll get a hardship, I hope. But you know the main players: Arike, Natasha [Howard], Satou [Sabally], I expect Satou to really step it up this season. Awak [Kuier]- she’s going to have big minutes to play. You’re going to see her stretched out at the three at times. So there’s going to be players that maybe hadn’t had the biggest opportunity in a lot of minutes. You’re going to see that until Teaira comes back.”

As far as the injuries to DeShields and Lopez Senechal:

“The team will provide medical updates on both players when appropriate,” the team said in a press release.

Trammell has made it clear where she stands on roster cuts throughout training camp. Before the final preseason game against the Fever, she spoke on her least favorite part of coaching:

“I also don’t like that we have to make cuts. To be completely honest, I wish we didn’t have to do that because I think of a lot of these women and what an incredible opportunity this is for them. If we do, and we will have to cut someone, I just pray that someone picks them up because I feel that they deserve to be in the league.”

When I asked her yesterday about words of encouragement for players being cut, she had this to say:

Continue to work. They’re all working extremely hard, and I don’t want this to happen. I wish we had more spots on our roster, to be completely honest. Just keep your value up and keep working. It’s not the end of the road, uh, j Cause they, they belong in the lead and, and just to continue to work.

Given the rocky start to the season before it even begins, its hard to say where this team will go. With a questionable wing rotation due to injury and lack of sizable depth in the frontcourt after waiving Collier and Brown, Trammell has her work cut out for her.

The Wings jumpstart their 2023 campaign at home against reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard and the Atlanta Dream on Saturday, May. 20th.

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