Kelly Loeffler out; Gottesdiener, Renee Montgomery in as WNBA Atlanta Dream sold

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ATLANTA (AP) — Former Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery made history on Friday as part of a three-member investor group that was approved to purchase the team.

The ownership change follows pressure on former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who angered WNBA players with her opposition to the league’s racial justice initiatives, to sell her share of the Dream.

Real estate investor Larry Gottesdiener was approved as majority owner of the team. The investor group also includes Montgomery and Suzanne Abair, president of Northland Investment Corp. in Massachusetts, the firm Gottesdiener founded.

Montgomery becomes the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise. She said she would play an active role with Abair in the leadership of the team.

“I’m going to be working with Suzanne and she’s going to lead the way,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said she first began considering her role in an ownership group after Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted about the possibility of being part of such a group.

“That tweet prompted my mind,” Montgomery said, adding she “started to figure out if that could become a real possibility.”

She said she also was motivated by James’ role in the “More Than a Vote” campaign that worked to increase voter turnout and reduce voter suppression in the Black community.

James applauded Montgomery’s ownership role by posting on Twitter: “So proud of this Queen. This is everything we are about!”

Montgomery sat out the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues and recently announced her retirement from the league after 11 seasons and two WNBA championships.

“I think it’s great that Renee has stepped up after she retired from playing the game to continue having an impact on the game,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Friday. “I’ve seen her strong work ethic. I’ve seen her advocacy and knowledge of the game and I’m sure that’s going to be an asset to Larry and Suzanne and a huge benefit to the team.”

The 34-year-old Montgomery won WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx in 2015 and 2017. She was an All-Star with the Connecticut Sun in 2011, when she set a career high with her average of 14.6 points per game. She was the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year in 2012.

The approval by the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors was expected and unanimous. It means co-owner Mary Brock also sold her share of the team.

Though his business is based in Newton, Massachusetts, Gottesdiener (pronounced Got-es-DEE-ner) said the team will remain in Atlanta.

“This is an Atlanta asset,” Gottesdiener said. “The Dream isn’t going anywhere.”

The WNBA announced on Jan. 20 the ownership change was close to being completed.

Players around the league had called for Loeffler to sell her 49% stake in the Dream after she wrote a letter to Engelbert over the summer objecting to the league’s advocacy for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dream players wore “Vote Warnock” T-shirts in support of Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in Georgia’s Senate runoff. Warnock’s victory, along with Jon Ossoff’s win in Georgia’s other runoff, handed control of the Senate to Democrats.

The high-profile campaigning against Loeffler by players on a team she owned was credited with boosting Warnock’s candidacy.

“I want to take this time to thank the WNBA players, particularly the Dream players,” Engelbert said Friday. “They were put in a difficult position. I was proud of the way they handled the situation. They stood for their values, they stood for professionalism. They served as role models with their advocacy and continue to do that.”

Gottesdiener said the Dream players captured his attention and respect.

“The last year, the players of the Dream refused to just shut up and dribble,” Gottesdiener said. “They found their collective voice and the world listened. We were inspired by these brave women who advocated sports and activism in the midst of the pandemic and we want to celebrate and honor them.

“We’re particularly proud to be stewards of this team in this city at this time.”

Engelbert, Montgomery and Gottesdiener would not rehash the controversy in a conference call on Friday. Instead, they kept their focus on the team’s future.

“Today does mark a new beginning for the Atlanta Dream organization,” Engelbert said.

Montgomery said her new role can set a tone.

“Breaking barriers for minorities and women by being the first former WNBA player to have both a stake in ownership and a leadership role with the team is an opportunity that I take very seriously,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery is in her first season as a studio analyst on Atlanta Hawks broadcasts for Fox Sports Southeast. She said she plans to continue in that role.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.