Michael Cooper doesn’t know if today’s WNBA players know that he once was one of the more feared defenders in the NBA.
But he knows that defense wins championships, and as the new coach of the Dream, focusing on stopping the other team will become a priority. Cooper was announced as the team’s coach Thursday.
“We will become a much better defensive team,” he said, and yes, just like when he was named the NBA’s defensive player of the year in 1987, Cooper still wears his socks high, even under his suits.
Cooper will replace Fred Williams, who was moved to an advisory role earlier this year the Dream were swept in the WNBA finals. Dream co-owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler are searching for a general manager. Williams held both roles.
“As we look to take the Atlanta Dream to the next level, Michael Cooper brings a caliber of coaching and leadership that is truly unique,” Brock and Loeffler said in a statement given to the media. “His passion for the game, for the WNBA and his focus on player development will be invaluable. We are excited to build on the success of our franchise for our team, our fans and for the city of Atlanta, and are already working toward an exciting 2014 season.”
Cooper most recently resigned as coach of the USC women’s basketball team in March. In four years, the Trojans were 72-57.
Cooper said he would prefer that his players know him from his time as a WNBA coach in Los Angeles. He coached the Sparks for eight seasons (2000-04, 2007-09), leading them to a 167-85 record, including a 25-13 playoff record, three Western Conference titles and two WNBA titles. As a Laker, Cooper won five NBA championships.
“I know how to get there (to the playoffs) and know how to win games,” he said.
The Dream have had no issue getting to the finals. Winning them has been the issue. They have been swept three times in the championship round since their inaugural 2008 season.
Cooper said the pieces are in place to win a title.
“It’s a team that’s on the verge of winning a championship,” he said.
He raved about Erika de Souza, whom he coached at Los Angeles in 2002. He said she is one of the best centers in women’s basketball and will be a focal point of his offense. She averaged 12.9 points per game during the regular season this year. De Souza’s contract is up, but Cooper said he hopes the next general manager will follow his advice and attempt to re-sign her and key sixth-man Armintie Herrington.
Once the inside game is established and teams try to take that away, Cooper said the Dream will need to improve its 3-point shooting. The team made only 27.5 percent of those shots during the regular season.
“All the pieces are there,” he said. “These are some things that needed to be changed during camp and the season.”
Cooper said he has no problem with not being the general manger. He thinks trying to handle the responsibilities of coach and general manager is a conflict of interest. He prefers to focus on the players.
As of Thursday afternoon, Cooper said he had yet to speak with arguably the most important player, Angel McCoughtry, but said he couldn’t wait to do so. She led the WNBA in scoring during the regular season (21.5 points per game) and is considered one of the best players in the league. However she also has a reputation as being a challenge to coach. It’s one that she worked hard to shed last season.
“That will be one of the biggest hurdles that I have to overcome in terms of player-coach relationships,” he said. “I scouted her when I was in L.A. I was very excited about her play at Louisville. Now I get an opportunity to not only watch her play, but help her with areas she’s deficient in and help her strengthen areas that she’s good at.”