It is the dawn of a new era: new coach, new philosophy, new roster, new mindset. And—everyone associated with the Dallas Wings hopes—a deeper playoff run.
But as the Wings begin their 2023 season against the Atlanta Dream on Saturday afternoon at College Park Center in Arlington, they do so with an air of mild uncertainty. There are new and talented players up and down a roster that has already been riddled by injury.
In is the high-energy Latricia Trammell, who will make her WNBA head coaching debut after spending the previous three seasons as the lead assistant for the Los Angeles Sparks.
She is joined by several new faces: Natasha Howard, a three-time WNBA champion, two-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year; former league Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield; and Maddy Siegrist, the third pick in the recent WNBA Draft, who at Villanova led the country in scoring last season. They will team with two-time WNBA All-Star Arike Ogunbowale, the Wings’ biggest star, and Veronica Burton, who was a standout as a rookie last season.
Now, about that uncertainty: prized free-agent acquisition Diamond DeShields, who won a championship with the Chicago Sky in 2021, is expected to miss extended time as she deals with a knee injury. Rookie guard Lou Lopez Senechal, the fifth pick in the draft, is scheduled to undergo knee surgery next week and will miss six to eight weeks.
“When you hit adversity, and then these players are professional, it brings people closer together,” Trammell says. “I think those relationships are closer now because of it.”
As a result of the injuries, players who otherwise might not have gotten the chance to shine will get more minutes. That includes Siegrist, whom Trammell says will be called upon early and often, and Awak Kuier, the third pick in the 2021 draft. A 6-foot-4 forward, Kuier averaged 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 33 games last season. “Awak will be stretched out at the three at times,” Trammell says. “It’s a huge opportunity for Awak this season, and I’m looking forward to how she responds.”
Complicating matters will be the absence of center Teaira McCowan, who will leave next month to compete for the Turkish national team in the European Championships. McCowan could miss most of the month—the Wings play 11 games in June—but that is dependent on how far the Turks advance. Even before the injuries hit, Trammell was already plotting a plan.
“I found in this position your vision won’t always work out,” she says. “We were already planning for Big T to be gone and were already working on a different look without her here.”
Enter Satou Sabally, an All-Star forward in 2021 who is in her fourth year with the Wings. She has been plagued by injuries since entering the league, but from the looks of her performance in the Euroleague, the Turkish League Championships, and training camp, she may be on the verge of finally breaking out.
“She’s healthier than she’s ever been and has looked the part in training camp,” Wings GM Greg Bibb says. “It’s time for her to show everyone the type of player she can be and have an injury-free season.”
Sabally is well aware of the expectations. “All of us have to step up,” she says, “but this is now a chance to show who I am.”
Despite the roster issues, Bibb says the Wings are not looking to bring anyone in. The decision is all about the salary cap. With a dozen players on the roster, nothing can be done to save cap dollars. “So we will go forward with 12 on the roster, 10 able bodies into the regular season,” Bibb says.
Once McCowan leaves for Euro play and the roster drops to nine able bodies, Bibb said the Wings will probably petition the league for a roster hardship exemption, which would allow them to spend above the cap.
Depth will obviously be a concern, certainly early in the season.
“We’ve always been a team on paper that demonstrated great depth and talent from 1 to 12 on the roster, but I think you could argue that perhaps we have more talent at the top of our roster than we’ve ever had, particularly the starting group,” Bibb says. “But we also have a number of unproven players coming off the bench.”
The last point is key: it’s a roster filled with talented, motivated, hungry players.
“Everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction and I really like the way our game is flowing,” Bibb says. “I think we will be playing at a faster pace than we have the past couple of seasons, and I think that will play to the strength of the players we have on the roster.”
With a lot of changes implemented and more to come, the Wings remain confident they can make some noise. Last year they avoided a losing season for the first time since moving from Tulsa seven years ago by going 18-18 and claiming the sixth seed in the playoffs. They also scored their first playoff victory since the move, in a series they eventually lost to the Connecticut Sun. It was their first playoff victory since 2009, when the franchise was in Detroit.
Asked if this team is in a win-now mode, Bibb simply says, “We have high, high expectations and can compete at a high level. We think we have the talent, depth, leadership and experience to do just that.”
That will all be put to the test starting on Saturday.