Professional Basketball

New look Lynx building foundation for success


At the conclusion of last year’s season, which found the Minnesota Lynx on the short-end of the playoff stick after losing a single-elimination playoff game to the Los Angeles Sparks, head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve flat-out stated that no player on the Lynx roster was untouchable.

For Lynx fans, it was a foreboding of the inevitable – the Lynx dynasty, which got them four championships, six Finals appearances and eight playoff appearances in the nine seasons since Reeve took over the helm, was over.

“Any phone call that comes, about anybody, you listen,” said Reeve at the time. “We’ve had labels of untouchables in the past. Now, would it take a whole lot to move a player or two? Absolutely. But we have a lot of work to do.”

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles drives against Chicago Sky center Stephanie Dolson during the 2019 season opener. Fowles is one of only three returning Lynx players this season. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

As general manager, Reeve knew that she had a lot of crucial decisions to make when it came to revamping the Lynx roster. It’s a place the team has not been in since her first season as head coach, back in 2010.

“The GM part of it, it’s a lot of work. But the basketball part I’m looking forward to. Things are changing. We have to change with it,” said Reeve in August 2018.

The chips fell. Guard Lindsay Whalen retired at the end of the season. Forward Maya Moore re-signed a contract but is sitting the 2019 season out. Forward Rebekkah Brunson is out with a sustained concussion. Center Sylvia Fowles returned but after having off-season elbow surgery, and guard Seimone Augustus also returned but had knee surgery as the season began and has yet to play a minute this season.

In order to rebuild the roster to conform to Reeve’s system, she aggressively made trades and hit the free agency market.

Guard Tanisha Wright was traded to New York for the Liberty’s 2020 second-round draft pick.

Guard Alexis Jones was traded to Los Angeles in exchange for guard Odyssey Sims.

Center Alaina Coates was acquired in a trade with Chicago in exchange for the Lynx 2020 third-round draft pick.

The Lynx traded their 2020 second-round pick to the Phoenix Mercury for forward Stephanie Talbot.

Guard Lexie Brown was acquired in a trade with the Connecticut Sun in exchange for Minnesota’s 2019 second-round pick.

Forwards Kelsey Griffin, Karima Christmas-Kelly, Damiris Dantas and Shae Ting signed as free agents.

Griffin and forward Temi Fagbenle were placed on the suspended list at the beginning of the season, and guard Danielle Robinson was able to return following an injury that cut her previous season short.

On Draft Day, Reeve was able to add forwards Napheesa Collier from the University of Connecticut and Notre Dame’s Jessica Shepard to the roster.

Minnesota Lynx forward Jessica Shepard attempts to block a shot by the Chicago Sky’s Diamond DeShields during the May 25 season opening game. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Last year, Minnesota had one of the oldest teams in the league. Now, they carry three rookies and have only four players with more than six years of experience in the WNBA. They haven’t been this young since 2010 when the team finished 13-21 and missed the playoffs by a half-game the season before Maya Moore was drafted.

Unlike the 2010 season when the team began with a 2-9 record in their first 11 games, the 2019 Lynx started out winning four out of their first five games before dropping the next four in a row. They are currently 6-5 through their first 11 games and in fifth place.

During the first third of the season, the team has struggled to close out games. Offensively, they’ve been able to build large leads, but have difficulty holding onto them. They held double-digit leads in seven games, winning six of them. They led by 14 against the Las Vegas Aces but lost by five; 17 versus the Dallas Wings but won by only three; 16 versus Phoenix and won by two, and 22 against the Indiana Fever, winning by only four.

Reeve knows that it is going to take the veterans on the team, namely Fowles, Robinson and Augustus to hold the younger players accountable, if they are going to break through to the next level.

“I mean this is the time we need each other. So, we just make sure we come in, and we don’t play the blame game. We hold each other accountable, but at the same time that it’s a team thing and that we’ll get better,” said Fowles. “I think it’s always those last five minutes of the game, not paying attention to detail, not locking in, turnovers, them getting points in the paint, fouling, putting back the free throw line.”

Currently, the Lynx lead the league in most consecutive playoff appearances with eight. With a 218-98 record and the highest winning percentage in the league, there is little doubt that Reeve knows that her system works. It is now a matter of getting the young players to continue to improve, firmly establish their identity and they will find themselves in good shape come post-season.

It took the 2010 season to build the foundation that led to the Lynx dynasty from 2011-2017. It is taking the 2019 season to build the foundation for future success.

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