- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Dan Padover, the WNBA’s executive of the year for the past two seasons for Las Vegas, is leaving the Aces to take over as general manager of the Atlanta Dream. Announced Monday, this is the latest in a series of moves Atlanta has made to reconstruct its franchise since it was bought by new ownership in February.
“It’s a basketball purist’s dream,” Padover said of the role he will take in Atlanta. “You’re building in every way: through the draft, through free agency and through a leadership perspective. Kind of every reason you get into the profession.”
The Dream named a new president and chief operating officer, Morgan Shaw Parker, on Sept. 8, and announced new head coach Tanisha Wright on Oct. 12. Like Padover, Wright — who played 14 seasons in the WNBA — comes to Atlanta from Las Vegas, where she was an assistant the last two years.
Darius Taylor, who had served as the Dream’s interim head coach since July 24, now will be assistant general manager, which was announced Monday along with Padover’s hiring.
Padover, a New Jersey native and UConn graduate, took over as GM of basketball operations for the Aces in December 2018 after that franchise moved from San Antonio to Las Vegas. He worked with coach Bill Laimbeer both in Las Vegas and previously with the New York Liberty.
After going 14-20 their first season, the Aces have been a combined 63-25 over the last three seasons with one appearance in the WNBA Finals and two in the semifinals. The Dream, by contrast, are a combined 23-65 in that three-year span and have missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons.
Padover said while he wishes the Aces had been able to win a WNBA title during his tenure, he felt ready to move on to a new challenge. He said Laimbeer, who he considers one of his most important mentors, understood why.
“He basically kind of said to me, ‘This is your next step. We’re competitors now, but if you ever need an ear, I’m here,’ ” Padover said. “Relatively speaking, the job will be pretty similar to what I did for the Aces. There wasn’t anything I wanted to do from a personnel standpoint in Vegas that I wasn’t able to do. But I think the impact I can have from day one with the Dream can be bigger.”
Atlanta began as an expansion franchise in 2008 and has been to the WNBA Finals three times, along with five other playoff appearances. But the organization has had a lot of turmoil the last two years.
The ownership duo of Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler took over the franchise in 2011. During the 2020 season, there was pressure on Loeffler, then a U.S. senator, to sell her stake in the team after she angered WNBA players with her opposition to the league’s racial justice initiatives.
In February, real estate investor Larry Gottesdiener became majority owner of the Dream with an investor group including Suzanne Abair, president of Northland Investment Corp. that Gottesdiener founded, and former WNBA player Renee Montgomery.
In April, Dream general manager Chris Sienko was fired. Coach Nicki Collen left in May to take over the Baylor women’s program. Her assistant, Mike Petersen, stepped in as interim coach but then left for health reasons in July.
Also in July, guard Chennedy Carter, selected No. 4 overall in the 2020 draft, was suspended by the Dream for “conduct detrimental to the team” and did not play the rest of the 2021 season. Earlier this month, the agent for players Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford said he was told the Dream won’t bring them back next season after their involvement in a fight in May came to light. The Dream were made aware of the altercation soon after it happened, but Montgomery told ESPN that the team didn’t realize the extent of the fight until recently.
Padover confirmed that the Dream will be moving on from Williams and Bradford. As for Carter, he said, “I plan to reach out to each of the players on our roster, including Chennedy, and take the winter to figure out the structure of our roster.”
Shaw Parker said Padover’s experience and success made him a perfect candidate for what the Dream want to do in remaking the franchise.
“It’s about stability, accountability and building trust,” she said. “With our fans, with our players, with our associates. This is a whole new leadership team, and I think it’s a really pro-active, innovative way to look at constructing a front office. The owners are entrusting us to make sure the basketball and business parts are connected hand-in-hand from the beginning.”
Padover said the goal is to make Atlanta a “destination franchise” for free agents. The WNBA doesn’t officially announce free agents until January, but according to Her Hoops Stats, six unrestricted free agents (other than Williams and Bradford) were on the Dream roster at season’s end. That includes guard Tiffany Hayes, who has been with Atlanta all nine of her seasons.
“Everybody can see who we’ve got under contract; it’s not a lot,” Padover said. “And they can see the new infrastructure we’re putting in place, which is a lot.”
This will be Wright’s first time as a head coach. Padover said he expects that he, Taylor and Wright will have a lot of discussions about personnel.
“Tanisha is as competitive as they come, but she also understands this isn’t going to be an overnight fix,” Padover said. “We have to make a lot of responsible decisions in the draft and free agency and in managing our salary cap. Because we want to build this into a sustainable franchise that can compete for multiple championships.”
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