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Chennedy Carter is not finished in the WNBA

After stints with the Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft is trying to find her way back to the league

It’s been almost a year since audiences last saw Chennedy Carter play in a WNBA game.

In 2020, Carter was touted as one of the WNBA’s next star point guards. Her ability to get to the rim paired with a dismembering crossover made Carter a walking highlight reel who often lived up to her showtime nickname of “Hollywood.” In 2023, however, after soured stints with two franchises, Carter is not currently a part of any WNBA roster.

Since spectators last saw Carter on the floor as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks in August 2022, the promising talent has spent time overseas, where she led Turkey’s top league in scoring and in Los Angeles, where she’s in the gym almost every day continuing to mold her game.

As the WNBA digs into the second half of the 2023 season, Carter is waiting patiently for her next opportunity. If and when she gets it, she plans to make the most of it.

“I love basketball. I love to play. I’m passionate about it. My time is coming soon,” she said. 

“Chennedy Carter is not finished.”

Guards Blake Dietrick (left) and Chennedy Carter (center) of the Atlanta Dream celebrate after winning a game against the Dallas Wings on July 26, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

As a rookie with the Atlanta Dream, Carter, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, immediately made her presence felt. She broke the scoring record for a player in their Dream debut, dropping 18 points against the Dallas Wings on July 26, 2020. She later became the first rookie player in franchise history to record 25-plus points in consecutive games. On Aug. 6, 2020, Carter broke the franchise record for most points by a rookie in a single game, scoring 35 points against the Seattle Storm .

The impressive performance made Carter the youngest player in WNBA history with a 30-point game, passing Sue Bird, who had held the record since 2002. Carter’s unique combination of speed, skill and power made her one of the game’s best with the ball in her hands.

“It was almost like at times, for her, you wanted her to simplify, but simple was sometimes boring for her,” said Baylor women’s basketball coach Nicki Collen, who coached the Dream during Carter’s rookie season. “She could do so many things with the basketball and because she didn’t lose it, you kind of had to be good with it.”

Carter ended her first season averaging 17.4 points, then the highest rookie scoring average in Dream franchise history. An ankle injury cut her season short after 16 games, but Carter was named to the All-Rookie team.

“She’s a phenomenal talent. I think everyone understands that and sees that,” said Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd. “From a basketball standpoint, I don’t think we’ve seen a player like her in the league when she’s been able to play. You just think of the crazy potential that she has.”

Loyd, a two-time WNBA champion in her ninth career season with the Storm, has been a key figure whom Carter has leaned on during her time away from the league. The two initially connected when Loyd reached out after Carter was drafted in 2020.

The pair have since formed a bond, with Loyd serving as an invested resource for Carter as she navigates her career, from providing feedback to Carter after an overseas game to giving advice about the do’s and don’ts of being a pro athlete.

“I’ve just been trying to help her as much as I can,” Loyd said. “As a pro, it’s hard — you want to be a pro but no one has taught you how to be a pro. The recovery process, what to eat, how to prepare, who to hang out with, all these things are things that I’ve learned from people wanting to teach me. I don’t think that she’s had that consistently and I don’t know if she had really bought into that, too.

“She’s been taking a lot of responsibility herself, saying, ‘Hey, a lot of this is on me, I’ve got to get better.’ That’s awesome.”

Carter credits her time overseas, where she spent five months playing in Turkey’s top women’s basketball league, as an important period for growth she says she’s experienced both on and off the court. Carter, who played for Bursa of the KBSL, said she learned the importance of taking care of her body and how to prepare for game action “the right way,” as she was often logging heavy minutes for her club. This was Carter’s first full season abroad. She had attempted to play in Turkey after her rookie season in the WNBA, but left the team early to be closer to home.

“I was kind of a kid who was homesick a bit at first and just really had to grow up and mature and understand that it is tough over there,” Carter said. 

This season for Carter was different. She committed to the experience, forcing herself to accept the discomfort of being alone in another country and adapting to the changes. 

“I think you become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Carter said. “I was in a lot of situations that I had to get comfortable in and I think that’s what made me grow and mature as not only a player but a person as well.”

Atlanta Dream guard Chennedy Carter prepares for a game against the Indiana Fever on Sept. 1, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Without any outside distraction, Carter focused on basketball. With Bursa, Carter averaged 24.1 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds, according to Eurobasket.com.

“After this season in Turkey, I just think I’m way better,” said Carter, who added that the most improved aspect of her game was her jump shot. “I think my confidence is there. I just think I’ve grown. I just think that there’s a lot of things going on with me that are finally clicking right.”

In a game against Mersin in late January that featured Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner and Las Vegas Aces point guard Chelsea Gray, Carter scored 36 points (on 50% shooting) and eight assists. Both were game highs. Against a Galatasaray team that featured Sparks forward Azura Stevens, Wings center Teaira McCowan and New York Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince, Carter scored 38 points on 66.7% shooting.

Based on her performance overseas, Carter believed she had dispelled any doubts others might have had about her game. She felt confident that her ability to excel in Turkey made her place in the WNBA undeniable.

“I definitely think just based off of that season, it really settled a lot about me,” Carter said.

The Sparks, under new coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant, chose to move in another direction and released Carter in mid-March.

“I’m going to stay prepared. I’m motivated,” Carter said. “At the same time, do I agree with the decision? No. Do I think that I could help many teams in the WNBA, including the Sparks? Yes, I do.”

After being released by the Sparks, Carter cleared waivers and became a free agent. Since her fourth-year rookie scale option had been exercised by former Los Angeles coach and general manager Derek Fisher, Carter’s salary for the 2023 season was guaranteed.

As much as Carter wanted to be on a WNBA roster to start the season, she said, though a “little disappointing,” it wasn’t hard to accept that she wasn’t once the season began. Carter has viewed the time away as an opportunity to rest, get her body together and spend time with her family.

Carter is focused on identifying the best fit for wherever she chooses to play next. As a player who plays with pace, she’d gravitate to a team that gets up and down the floor, but emphasized that she thinks she can fit in anywhere. Carter said it’s important to be in a place where her ability as a player can be fully deployed.

“I’m pretty much in control of whenever I play. I’m in control of that,” Carter said. “I just want to find the best situation for me. I’m a talented player and I want to be utilized the right way.”

According to Carter’s agent Kimberly Davis, a few teams engaged in talks regarding Carter’s availability earlier in the season, but none recently.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Chennedy Carter shoots a free throw against the Chicago Sky on May 6, 2022, at United Center in Chicago.

Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Carter’s talent and ability to perform at a high level in the WNBA have never really been in question. The largest barrier to Carter’s return to the league stems from actions off the floor.

In Atlanta, after missing time due to an elbow injury and playing in just 11 games during her second season in 2021, the Dream suspended Carter indefinitely due to conduct “deemed detrimental to the team.” Carter did not play another game for Atlanta that season and was traded to the Sparks in the offseason.

In Los Angeles, Carter was temporarily sidelined by another injury, this time to her knee. Following the exit of general manager and coach Derek Fisher in June, interim coach Fred Williams benched Carter for four of the remaining six games of the season. Carter finished the 2022 season playing 16.4 minutes per game, averaging 8.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

Questions have been raised about Carter’s willingness to contribute to a team’s culture. Collen, who speaks with Carter regularly and refers to herself as an “unofficial agent as well as a bit of a parent” to Carter, recalled lessons that she tried to communicate to Carter as a rookie about the importance of team and learning how to channel her competitive fire toward her opponents instead of her teammates.

When asked if Carter’s next opportunity in the WNBA is at all tied to Carter’s proficiency on the court, Collen said without pause — no.

“When you go against Diana Taurasi and she’s talking at you, you want to know that you have 11 people that are going to be behind your back and not going, ‘Hey, Diana hit her, she could use it,’ ” Collen said. “It’s that understanding that it doesn’t matter how talented you are, you need the people around you all the time.”

Carter plays with a natural chip on her shoulder. Collen theorizes it stems from audiences never viewing her as the best amongst her peers. Carter remembers the names of the five athletes ranked higher than her in high school. It was difficult for Carter to miss out on being named Rookie of the Year in 2020, even after missing much of the season due to injury.

While that quest to prove doubters and evaluators wrong has contributed to what makes Carter so great to watch, Collen wants Carter to push beyond personal achievement. To Collen, if Carter can get on the court, hoop, and win, all of the other noise won’t matter. She calls it a growth opportunity for Carter, who she does believe has matured during her time away. 

“I want to see her get to the point where she does understand that people respect her game and what she’s capable of and aren’t trying to put her down,” Collen said. “The longer she plays, the more respect she’s going to get. You’re going to get that from winning. You’re going to get that from leading. You’re going to get that through consistent effort and preparation. It’s not just about can you go get 50.

“I think that’s my hope for her is she finds that maturity in really being great at her craft, but being a winner and truly defining success through helping her team win rather than what is the accolade, what do people think, who are they comparing her to.” 

Los Angeles Sparks guard Chennedy Carter (left) and Dallas Wings guard Marina Mabrey (right) talk during a game on Aug. 14, 2022, at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles.

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Collen recalled a game in 2020 during Carter’s rookie year with the Dream, who were readying to take the floor against the New York Liberty and guard Sabrina Ionescu, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick.

Before the announcement of starting lineups, Collen pulled Carter aside.

“I said, look, this is Atlanta against New York. This is not Sabrina against Chennedy. That’s got to be the mentality,” Collen said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to compete and I don’t want you to believe you’re the better player, but we want to win this basketball game.”

Collen also reminded Carter of her potential to be an all-time great in the league, but that that level of greatness could only be achieved through consistency. Showing up every day. Talent alone would not be enough.

“I told her in that moment, I want to be the person that gives your Hall of Fame speech someday. That’s how talented I think she is,” Collen said. “Here we are three years later and that stretch in Atlanta is probably her best stretch as a WNBA player, which is really sad to me. It is.”

Collen does believe that Carter will get another chance in the WNBA at some point. Until then, her advice to Carter is to stay ready and when that opportunity comes, don’t squander it.

“You only get so many chances. It’s just the nature of life. And when you get your next chance, are you ready? Are you prepared? Have you learned?” Collen said. “I hope so, because I think she is a unique and special talent. I love that kid.”

Carter said she is open to weighing any opportunities should a team be interested in bringing her in before the close of the 2023 season. She’s confident her next chance is coming and plans to stay prepared until it does, ready to show that her career in the league is only beginning.

When asked if she would have done anything differently, Carter said no. She did, however, say that the version of Carter that audiences will see whenever she does get back in the league will be different from the last version seen in Los Angeles almost a year ago.

“I think there will definitely be a different Hollywood for sure. I also think that there will be changes made to me for myself and my future,” said Carter, who is also currently navigating sneaker free agency, where she has received interest from multiple brands. “Everyone will just have to wait and see.

“I’m ready to go.”

Sean Hurd is a writer for Andscape who primarily covers women’s basketball. His athletic peak came at the age of 10 when he was named camper of the week at a Josh Childress basketball camp.