The Dream have plenty of questions to answer for their 2021 roster

More questions than answers about the Dream’s salary cap

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At this point of the offseason, there are more questions than answers about the Atlanta Dream’s salary cap and roster situation heading into the 2021 season. Hint: it’s more complex than the chart above would suggest.

The Dream currently have 10 players under contract for the 2021 season, which puts them under the WNBA’s 12-player roster limit — and leaves them with $358,713 in cap space. But that doesn’t include Renee Montgomery, who opted out of the 2020 season and was in the last year of her contract. It also doesn’t include Betnijah Laney, who is a free agent but has said that returning to Atlanta is her intention.

If the Dream want to add a stretch ‘4’, like Dream coach Nicki Collen said would be a point of emphasis for them, things get tricky pretty quickly.

Let’s break down some of the options and possibilities, starting with the players who aren’t in question.

No questions here

We can be certain that Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Tiffany Hayes will all suit up for the Dream in 2021. Hayes and Elizabeth Williams have been cornerstones of the Dream’s roster for years, and Chennedy Carter and Courtney Williams form one of the league’s best backcourts.

Carter is still on her rookie contract and will earn $69,360 next season. Both of the Williams and Hayes enter the last year of their contracts, with Courtney Williams earning the max allowed under the new CBA at $190,500. Elizabeth Williams and Hayes both signed max contracts under the old CBA, so Hayes will earn $119,780 and Elizabeth will earn $119,000.

Between these four players, then, the Dream are at just under $500,000 of the $1.339 million salary cap — just over a third of the cap for one-third of the roster, which is pretty solid valuation all things considered

Likely returning

Shekinna Stricklen had a down year in 2020 and battled through a shoulder injury that left her unable to shoot from the perimeter at her typical rate — her 33.3% from beyond the arc is her lowest since her rookie year in 2012. Collen coached Stricklen in Connecticut and Stricklen felt strongly about coming to Atlanta as a free agent, though it’s safe to say her 2020 season didn’t go as anyone planned.

Stricklen played a decent part of the season at the ‘4’ because of her shooting ability as the Dream worked to find someone who could space the floor as a post. Neither Monique Billings nor Glory Johnson were true shooting threats from the perimeter, so the Dream’s opponents didn’t feel the need to guard them on the outside and Collen moved Stricklen to that role.

If Stricklen can be healthy for the 2021 season, it’s possible that she can fill the gap as the stretch ‘4’ that the Dream are in search of. She’s one of the best shooters in the league when she’s on, so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which she’s not a large part of the team if she’s healthy.

Kalani Brown is an interesting case. Like Glory Johnson, testing positive for COVID-19 set her back in her adjustment to the team, and Brown had the added misfortune of experiencing pretty severe symptoms. It was clear she wasn’t 100% in shape by the time she did join the Dream, and Collen said as much in her post-season media availability last month.

But as a backup at the ‘5’ to Elizabeth Williams, Brown brings a lot of size and intriguing upside. She’s still on her rookie-scale contract, so she would only cost the Dream $58,710. Collen traded Brittney Sykes and Marie Gülich for Brown in the 2019 offseason, and it would be surprising if they move on from her after just one misfortune-laden season.

Potential to move

Billings is a unique player. She’s incredibly athletic and plays with great energy every time she touches the floor, which makes her an excellent rebounder. When she’s on, she’s a threat to score at the rim and can finish over just about anyone. But her shooting can be streaky, and she scored in double figures just eight times last season.

Billings has also attempted just one 3-pointer in her career. She made it, but the efficacy of a forward who can’t shoot the ‘3’ as the WNBA shoots more and more from beyond the arc every year is a question — hence why Stricklen played a lot of minutes at the ‘4’ down the stretch. Someone has to space the floor to allow Courtney Williams and Carter room to work inside, and it’s unclear if that’s going to be Billings.

She’s valuable off the bench and brings a lot of energy, but her offensive ceiling limits her role. With limited roster spots, there may not be a ton of space for someone who plays Billings’ role to come off the bench for the Dream. There’s a chance she could be moved this offseason.

Probably not returning

The Dream signed Glory Johnson to a one-year deal at $165,000 in the hopes she’d be the do-it-all forward they needed. But it just never clicked for Johnson, and while there were certainly extenuating circumstances that can explain her lack of success on the court, the fact remains that Johnson didn’t seem to mesh well with the Dream.

As Atlanta works to put the most competitive roster possible on the floor in 2021, it seems unlikely that Johnson will be a part of it.

Kaela Davis joined the Dream late in the season on a 7-day contract that turned into a contract for the rest of the season. She played in just two games and didn’t score a point, so it’s unlikely that she’ll be back.

Rookies not named Chennedy Carter

Jaylyn Agnew was the first Creighton alum to be drafted into the WNBA but was cut by the Washington Mystics in training camp. The Dream signed her after Hayes and Montgomery opted out with an eye on her 3-point shooting as a potential area where she could contribute to the team.

But being a rookie in the WNBA is never easy, and Agnew ended up only playing in 11 games — and only scored in four. As the Dream face down a logjam at the guard position, Agnew will probably be on the outside looking in, though it seems likely that she’ll at least come to training camp.

Brittany Brewer, the Dream’s second-round pick, also may find herself on the outside looking in. Collen and her staff liked Brewer’s potential out of Texas Tech, but, again, developing in the WNBA as a rookie is a challenging prospect. She appeared in just five games for the Dream. However, like Agnew, it seems likely that she’ll return for training camp and possibly challenge for a roster spot as a backup ‘5’.

Mikayla Pivec opted out of the 2020 season and has been playing with Promete in Spain. The Dream’s third-round pick in the 2020 draft, she’s an intriguing option with high upside, and she’s expected to come to training camp as well.

The question marks

As the WNBA’s reigning Most Improved Player, Betnijah Laney is due for a serious raise from the $68,000 she made in 2020. There was some speculation that she’d be eligible for the supermax if she re-signs with the Dream, but a source familiar with the league’s rules confirms to The Next that she is not.

However, Laney is still in line for quite the raise. Her maximum salary would be $190,550, and while there’s no guarantee that Atlanta would throw that much money at her, Laney’s services will be in high demand across the league. Both Laney and the Dream are interested in reuniting, so it seems likely that the Dream will make as large of an offer as they can.

If they gave Laney the max, the Dream would have $346,060 in cap space. For context, that number includes Billings but does not include Agnew, Brewer or Pivec since it’s unclear at this point if they’ll make the final roster.

This is where things get interesting.

Maite Cazorla was a solid backup at point guard to Montgomery in the 2019 season and should at minimum return for training camp. Blake Dietrick set a new Dream record for 3-point shooting in 2020 and is universally beloved by Atlanta’s players and coaching staff. There isn’t room, in cap space or in roles on the team, to have all four of Carter, Cazorla, Montgomery and Dietrick on the roster. Carter, as previously stated, is a lock. Between Cazorla, Montgomery and Dietrick, I’d expect two of the three to make the final roster.

But there are big question marks about Montgomery. When she opted out of the 2020 season, she was in the last year of her contract, so she can only negotiate with the Dream. After a down year in 2019 and then not playing this past season — and entering her mid-30s — Montgomery’s value is somewhat of a mystery.

In 2019, she earned $107,000, and the minimum in 2021 for a player with 3+ years of service is $70,040. Her value probably falls somewhere between those two numbers, but Cazorla would only cost the Dream $58,710 and Dietrick made $68,000 in 2020. Montgomery is known for her shooting, though Dietrick proved very capable of filling that gap in the 2020 season.

Based purely on numbers, can the Dream afford to pay Montgomery more than either Cazorla or Dietrick to play the same role? That’s a question I’m glad I don’t have to answer.