After following back-to-back WNBA finals appearances with a disappointing exit last year, the Atlanta Dream enter 2013 with big expectations.
The revamped Tulsa Shock are hoping to make plenty of noise, too.
Both teams look to get off to a good start as the Dream host the Shock on Saturday night.
After losing to Seattle and Minnesota in the 2010 and 2011 finals, respectively, the Dream endured a tumultuous 2012 season. Coach and general manager Marynell Meadors was suddenly dismissed with 10 games remaining in the season. This came about the same time that All-Star Angel McCoughtry was suspended for undisclosed rules violations.
The presumption of a connection between the two events was never confirmed. Assistant coach Fred Williams was promoted to take over leadership of the team, and he returns for his first full season as coach and GM.
The Dream won seven of 10 regular-season games under Williams but lost to eventual champion Indiana in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"We had at the end of the season some change and stuff and we were still trying to fight to get in the playoffs," Williams said. "We still accomplished a lot of our goals to finish strong and have a winning season and compete in the playoffs. I think a lot of players still have a bad taste in their mouth that they want to get back there and compete to get to the finals again."
McCoughtry, who averaged a league-best 21.4 points last season, is one of four returning starters. Williams said McCoughtry and the team have moved past last year's disruptions.
"I think Angel in the offseason has really matured a lot with the game of basketball and things," Williams said. "It's a clean slate. She played hard in that transition when she came back for us last year toward the end of the season. She was part of our big run getting into the playoffs. We welcome her back."
McCoughtry said the team looks deeper and should be in good position for another run at its first championship. She said falling short of the finals last year is "definitely a driving force."
If the preseason prognostications of the league's general managers are any indication, Tulsa finally looks like a playoff contender. A survey found the Shock as the WNBA's most improved team.
Tulsa went 9-25 last season but is now on the playoff radar after a series of offseason moves. And it appears that 2011 draft pick Liz Cambage will also rejoin the team, adding to the intrigue.
First, though, came the trades with Minnesota and New York to acquire former Stanford standouts Candice Wiggins and Nicole Powell. Next, came the signing of Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins, undoubtedly the top point guard in the 2013 draft.
"The excitement is building," coach Gary Kloppenburg said.
Kloppenburg remained in contact with Cambage in hopes of luring the 6-foot-8-post player back to Tulsa. Cambage started 11 of 33 games her rookie season, averaging 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds on a team that won only three games. Last winter, Cambage came into her own as a pro, averaging 36.2 points and 11.1 rebounds for Zhejiang in China.
"We're excited to have Liz back. I know the city will do a great job in welcoming her back," said Diggins, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft. "It feels like we are in on the ground floor on something really special. We might be the youngest team in the league, but we're exciting and we will be fun to watch."