- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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At some point, we might start wondering if the Atlanta Dream have "Alydar" syndrome. For you youngsters, that's the horse that finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races in 1978.
Alydar was a very talented colt, good enough that he could have won the Triple Crown himself. It was just his bad luck he happened to be 3 years old at the same time as Affirmed.
The Dream have been a very good team the past few years, but have run into even better teams in the WNBA Finals. In 2010, it was Seattle. In 2011 and '13, it was Minnesota. Atlanta was swept in all of those series.
This year, former Los Angeles Sparks coach Michael Cooper has taken over the Dream, and he has championship experience. So does Swin Cash, obtained from Chicago in a trade that cost Atlanta virtually nothing and brought in a player who has won three WNBA titles.
The Dream appear to be the favorite in the Eastern Conference this season, and that will be their focus for the next three months. Then, if that goes well, they can take another postseason shot at winning their first WNBA title.
Here's a quick look at the Eastern Conference for 2014, with teams listed in their projected order of finish.
1. Atlanta Dream: Of course, everything starts with Angel McCoughtry. But she should have plenty of help this year. Sancho Lyttle played just six games last year between injuries and her commitment to the Spanish national team. It will help if the Dream have her more in 2014, working inside with Erika de Souza, who had one of the best seasons of her career in 2014. Matee Ajavon came via trade and should fit well into the Dream's typical up-tempo pace, which shouldn't change under Cooper.
2. Indiana Fever: Tamika Catchings turns 35 this summer, and says she is as motivated as ever. Katie Douglas left via free agency to Connecticut, but the Fever got used to being without her last season, as she played in just four games. Erin Phillips is also gone (to Phoenix), and Jeanette Pohlen will miss the season with an Achilles' injury. Still, Indiana seems pretty well stocked with guards. Marissa Coleman will get a fresh start in her sixth year in the league.
3. New York Liberty: This team seems like it's becoming more Bill Laimbeer-like in terms of personality, but is it as talented as he wants? Maybe not yet. The Liberty took a big step in that direction by obtaining Tina Charles in a trade, and it will also help to have Essence Carson back from injury, as she missed most of last season. Who will step forward as the Liberty's most consistent offensive threat behind Charles and Cappie Pondexter?
4. Connecticut Sun: Gone are Charles, Kara Lawson, Tan White and Mistie Bass. Douglas, who previously spent five seasons in Connecticut, adds experience as a 13-year WNBA veteran. Other vets include Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene, Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower. And then there are the young 'uns, including rookies Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas. There's definitely some rebuilding going on, but there might be enough talent to grab a postseason spot.
5. Washington Mystics: In his second season of making over the Mystics, Mike Thibault is not afraid of making a big move. He traded Crystal Langhorne to Seattle, and got back a younger Maryland grad: second-year pro Tianna Hawkins. The Mystics made the playoffs last season, and certainly veterans, such as Monique Currie, Ivory Latta and Lawson, have their sights set on that this season. But there is enough of a youth factor with this squad to think maybe it could be more of a growth year.
6. Chicago Sky: The Sky made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year. Can they keep that momentum going? Maybe, but going into this season there appear to be some big question marks -- especially inside -- for Chicago. Elena Delle Donne, the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year, might make additional strides in her already terrific individual game, but some other players probably will need to step forward more than they have previously in their careers.
With Angel McCoughtry, Erika de Souza and coach Michael Cooper leading the way, Atlanta looks to have the advantage in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2014 WNBA season.