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Dream trade of McGee-Stafford an effort to finalize roster

#34 Imani McGee-Stafford, left, and #7 Brittney Sykes of the Atlanta Dream celebrate a win over the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker, III
#34 Imani McGee-Stafford, left, and #7 Brittney Sykes of the Atlanta Dream celebrate a win over the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker, III /

Dream working to finalize roster, but more cuts ahead

ATLANTA — In its trade of center Imani McGee-Stafford for Dallas’ 2020 third-round draft pick, the Atlanta Dream looked to cut down a talented training camp roster while it works to figure out the best way to potentially play a WNBA season without a two-time Olympian.

Following her late 2018 knee injury, the Dream expects to miss Angel McCoughtry for most of the season and has prepared to play all of it without her. The Dream is evaluating McCoughtry’s progress on a “month-to-month, strength test-to-strength test” basis. McCoughtry will make the final 12-person team roster.

Dream head coach Nicki Collen says that with playing with only 11 players, each player needs a bit more versatility — something she feels like she has in center Marie Gülich, who the team acquired last month in a draft-night trade with Phoenix. Collen wanted to draft Gülich in 2018, but the Mercury drafted the center out of Oregon State before Atlanta’s pick came up.

“It’s how we play, she is very good and pick and pop and pick and roll,” Collen said of Gülich. “She understands when to re-screen and when to twist actions. She’s just playing with a different level of confidence cause she knows there is opportunity.”

McGee-Stafford is known as a defensive player who can protect the rim, and Collen said Gülich offers more movement and offensive threat, though it wasn’t showcased much in her season playing behind Brittney Griner.

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“We think Imani has value. Imani wanted to play, wanted to have significant minutes, and as camp’s gone along, it’s just a numbers crunch,” Collen said at Thursday’s Dream practice. “Having someone that is truly a position player, at this point was less valuable but we knew she was a valuable commodity in this league because of her size and skillset.”

McGee-Stafford was traded to the Dream from Chicago in 2017, and played in 29 games last season, started in two and averaged 10.5 minutes and 3.4 rebounds per game. Now, she’s headed to Dallas with an opportunity for consistent playing time with a team that can truly use her, immediately.

As of Thursday, there are still 13 players in the Dream’s training camp – not including McCoughtry – and a week until the final roster deadline.

Atlanta still has two cuts to make.

“I don’t sleep well at night,” Collen said of these difficult choices ahead. “This camp is hard for me because for the first time, last year, it was very clear-cut in my mind, and the last couple spots came down to culture people, truly situational people. Where I feel like right now we have some people that are going to get cut that could be rotation players for us.”

There’s no way to estimate (see: guess) who will make Collen’s final roster and who won’t, because it’s based on the way Atlanta wants to play this season and who they believe will help them do it.

The team wants to stay defensive-minded and fast-paced but improve in offensive efficiency. Who do they do that with?

The team picked up pieces it believes will help offset the loss of McCoughtry with the pickup of forward Nia Coffey via trade with the Las Vegas Aces and signing of forward Haley Peters to a training camp contract. Veteran Lynetta Kizer signed a camp contract as well.

But, Belarus national team member and Dream guard Alex Bentley will miss time this season to compete in Eurobasket.

No matter what happens, based on Atlanta’s mindset ahead of the McGee-Stafford trade, the Dream’s final cuts could very well come sooner than the WNBA official deadline, which is listed as May 23.

“I’ve always questioned at times when you know you have players that, quite frankly, are good enough to make opening day rosters in this league. If you cut them late, it’s harder for them to get picked up than if you cut them earlier,” Collen said. “So we already talked as a staff about what moves we might make, but before we would ever do anything, we want to offer to the potential of a trade.”

Atlanta fans will see McGee-Stafford soon, though.

“Imani just wants an opportunity to play, and with the Cambage situation in Dallas, I think she views that as a better opportunity to play,” Collen said. “We hugged it out, and off she’ll go to Dallas and we’ll see her on opening day.”

Atlanta opens its 2019 season in State Farm Arena hosting the Dallas Wings at 7 p.m. EST.

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