After winning the franchise’s fourth WNBA championship in 2017, the summer of 2018 wasn’t as kind to the Minnesota Lynx.
Minnesota finished the regular season around the .500 mark with a record of 18-16 heading into postseason play, where it was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
With a new season nearly among us, the Lynx look to turn the page and bounce back this year. But so far, the 2019 year hasn’t been much better for Minnesota than how 2018 ended. And it’s only January.
After moving on from Lindsay Whalen at the end of last season due to her retirement, the Lynx found out this week that they could very well be without another member of their core group that has helped bring four titles to Minnesota.
Less than a week after the organization applied the core tag to Maya Moore, rumors began to float around that the All-Star wing is unsure whether or not she will play in the WNBA in 2019, contemplating either sitting out, asking for a trade from the Lynx or even retiring.
This news comes at the beginning of the WNBA free agency period, which began on Monday with players and teams officially being able to start negotiation processes. Players won’t be able to officially sign contracts until Feb. 1, however.
With the departure of one — and potentially even two — key players on the team, we could see Minnesota become more aggressive in the free agent market and throughout the offseason than we have in a long time.
With the start of free agency, the WNBA released an updated list of core players, reserved players, restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents.
Core players are essentially the same as franchise-tagged players, giving a team exclusive negotiating rights with that player. Players can receive a core designation four times in their career.
Reserved players are free agents who have played three or fewer years in the WNBA, therefore giving their team exclusive negotiating rights with them.
Restricted free agents are free agents with four or five years of experience in the league and have the ability to sign with any team, but their previous team can match any offer to keep that player, if it wishes. Unrestricted free agents can essentially do whatever they want.
Let’s take a look at who’s currently on Minnesota roster and who it has in the free agent market, some needs the Lynx have heading into a new season and some interesting names on the free agent list this offseason.
Who’s on the roster, who’s on the market?
Entering free agency, the roster is looking thin for the Lynx as the negotiation period with players begins. Minnesota currently contains five players on its roster, all of which are set to enter the final year of their contracts.
Here’s a full list of the current Lynx roster, with contract figures courtesy of High Post Hoops‘ salary database:
|Lynx Current 2019 Roster|
|Player||Contract Length||2019 Contract|
|Temi Fagbenle||Ends after 2019 (team option in 2020)||$49,498|
|Sylvia Fowles||Ends after 2019||$113,360|
|Alexis Jones||Ends after 2019 (team option in 2020)||$47,798|
|Danielle Robinson||Ends after 2019||$108,000|
|Tanisha Wright||Ends after 2019||$94,860|
|Total Team Salary:||$413,516|
|Salary Cap: $976,300|
That roster outlook will of course change when the Feb. 1 date of players officially being able to sign contracts arrives, with more than half of Minnesota’s current free agents not likely to head elsewhere in 2019.
Let’s take a look at the list of free agents containing players who suited up for the Lynx last summer:
|List of Lynx Free Agents|
|Player||Free Agency Designation||WNBA Salary in 2018|
|Anna Cruz||Reserved||Played Overseas|
As you can see, Moore has been cored, which means the Lynx have exclusive rights to negotiations with the wing — if she decides she wants to play in Minnesota.
Anna Cruz, who has played overseas the last few seasons, and Cecilia Zandalasini are both reserved free agents, which means the Lynx also have negotiation rights with them as well. And you can about guarantee that Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson, both unrestricted free agents, won’t be signing elsewhere in 2019.
As far as Sydney Colson and Erlana Larkins, who joined Minnesota late in the season in 2018, those two players are the most likely out of that free agent list who could be on the move elsewhere.
With the current roster layout, the retirement of Whalen and questions surrounding Moore’s status for the summer, the Lynx could end up having a decent amount of room to make some moves in free agency and throughout the offseason.
Even including the salaries of Moore, Brunson and Augustus and others — assuming their deals will be somewhat similar to that of last years — Minnesota will still have some salary cap room to be aggressive and could provide fans with a newer-looking squad in 2019.
In 2018, the Lynx saw some offseason moves that had a larger impact on their incoming season than they originally thought.
Early on in free agency a year ago, Minnesota lost Renee Montgomery to the Atlanta Dream right out of the gate. Shortly after, the Lynx traded away restricted free agent Natasha Howard to the eventual WNBA Champion Seattle Storm. Both players were key pieces that the Lynx struggled to replace throughout the season.
In 2019, Minnesota will have to work to try and rebuild that second unit with holes still remaining from the departures of Montgomery and Howard.
As far as team needs for the Lynx, 3-point shooting is something that Montgomery was a key aspect to and something they sorely missed during the regular season.
Minnesota made 5.4 3s per game last season, while attempting 15.6 per game. Those totals ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the WNBA ahead of only Las Vegas. The Lynx basically suffered on the offensive end of the floor in general, averaging 78.9 points per game, which was tied for third lowest in the league.
To compare that 3-point shooting to a successful season like when it won the title in 2017 with Montgomery and Howard, Minnesota made 37 percent of its 3s (second-best in the WNBA) and averaged 85.3 points per game (third-best in the league).
With the starting lineup set once again for the upcoming season mixed with taking Danielle Robinson out of the second unit and pushing her into the starting lineup to replace Whalen, the Lynx are going to need to beef up the bench this offseason.
Minnesota head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve also stressed throughout the season the fact that the Lynx need to focus more on their pace of play and being able to push the ball up the court. Their pace of play in 2018 ranked second-lowest in the WNBA at 78.6.
With those two aspects standing out as Minnesota’s biggest needs ahead of another year, you have to figure the Lynx seek out a player that can push the ball and someone who has the ability to hurt opponents from deep this offseason to bolster the bench.
The free-agent market
The free agent market never really is incredibly deep or a market that is filled with big game-changing players, mostly due to the fact that teams can apply core/franchise tags to players they want to make sure stays put.
The unrestricted player pool, according to WNBA.com, contains roughly 30 players this offseason. The restricted player pool contains a dozen players.
One name within the unrestricted free agent list that could garner the most interest of teams around the league is Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley, who has the ability to hurt teams from deep at any point in the game. The Lynx wouldn’t be the only team trying to convince Quigley to join their team.
Briann January is another intriguing name on the unrestricted market who could possibly fit into the mold of what the Lynx are searching for as far as needs. January shot a career-high 47 percent from deep and recorded the highest pace of play of her career with Phoenix last year (81).
If Minnesota is looking for more of a guard/wing who can play a few different positions, Dallas Wings forward Karima Christmas-Kelly and Washington Mystics guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt are two interesting names on the list as well. The only issue Minnesota might run into is trying to convince any free agents to take a bench role for a season.
The restricted market is a bit more enticing but is also harder to get that player to join the team. There are names such as Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims of the LA Sparks and Natasha Cloud of the Mystics, although it’s hard to see them leaving their respective teams.
The free agency period is an interesting time and anything is a possibility when players hit the market. With the mixture of a larger amount of cap space and the uncertainty of if Moore will decide to play this season, expect the Lynx to be aggressive in trying to add some pieces ahead of the 2019 season.