At the start of every new season, the common story entering the beginning of training camp is the arrival of multiple new players to try and fight their way onto a WNBA roster by the time the regular season kicks off.
Sometimes those players are brought in to fill out a camp roster to serve as a “camp body” until a given player returns from overseas or other commitments. Other times, new faces enter an organization’s training camp because the team has experienced turnover from the year prior in search of new talent to fill out the regular season roster.
For this Minnesota Lynx team in 2019, the latter is more-so the case for an organization that has put together one of the most successful near-decade long stretches in WNBA history.
The Lynx began training camp at their practice facility in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, and three big pieces that have played a large part in their success over that span were not present.
Veteran All-Stars, WNBA Champions and future Hall of Fame players Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson were all absent from camp on Sunday. And for sure with at least two of those three players, they won’t be seen in a Minnesota uniform for the entirety of the 2019 campaign.
“It’s hard to replace future Hall of Fame players, but you enjoy the moment and you embrace the moment of seeing the growth and the learning process of these younger players. Just seeing what we are going to become,” said Seimone Augustus, who is entering her 14th WNBA season in 2019. “You can see the identity of our team starting to develop, so it’s time to step up to the challenge.”
Following the 2018 season, which saw the Lynx get bounced by the Los Angeles Sparks in the opening round of the WNBA Playoffs, Whalen announced her retirement from the WNBA and shortly after took a job as the head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Minnesota.
A few months later, during the offseason, Moore announced she would be sitting out the season to shift her focus to her ministry dreams and other things outside of basketball.
When it comes to Brunson, her status for the year is still up in the air while she tries to fight her way back and recover from concussion-like symptoms she suffered near the end of the 2018 season.
Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said on Sunday the team continues to stay in contact with Brunson and monitor how she is feeling, having talked on and off throughout the offseason. It doesn’t sound like Brunson will be back anytime soon, though.
Reeve added that she has been in contact with Moore as well, most notably following the WNBA Draft when they talked about the team’s draft picks and other things going on in Moore’s life.
“To my knowledge, nothing is different (with Brunson’s status). We decided to check in occasionally. … I think her and the family are still here (in Minnesota),” Reeve said. “Right after the draft, (Moore and I) had a nice exchange. She was excited that we got (Napheesa Collier), because she is from her hometown of Jefferson City. … Maya is doing well, she updated me on what she was working on with her ministry work and criminal justice reform.
“That’s our plan, I don’t want to be overbearing but I do want to check up on her and I know she will be curious as to what we are doing. I expect that to be the case throughout the entire season.”
For a team that has basically maintained the same starting lineup for the last handful of seasons and has been able to maintain a lot of carryover from year to year, 2019 will be a year of change, challenges and learning as they continue to transition into the future of what they franchise will look like.
“At the end of the day we have new bodies in here. We have girls that are putting in work,” Sylvia Fowles said. “We have some new faces and are changing up a few things, but at the same time our foundation and our base is still the same and nothing has really changed.”
Without Whalen and Moore, along with Brunson for at least the start of the season, Minnesota’s starting lineup and rotation will look different than in years past.
With Augustus and Fowles both returning to that rotation, and with Danielle Robinson likely seeing her minutes and role increase in 2019, new players such as Karima Christmas-Kelly, Odyssey Sims, Damiris Dantas, Napheesa Collier, Jessica Shepard and others will be in charge of filling the holes left behind by the three absent All-Stars.
“The style of play (will be different), but like I said, we have a set foundation about what we want. I think you guys will get to see us moving more, which will be a bit different than in the last couple of years,” Fowles said. “We have a couple of fresh legs that I actually have to keep up with, so that’s going to be exciting to see.”
As training camp and the WNBA season officially gets underway for the Lynx, change is certainly unfolding in Minnesota with some familiar and high-quality talent absent.
But the Lynx are excited for the opportunity to grow what they hope will be an exciting future both this season and beyond.
“It’s a little bit weird, but it’s expected. Change comes and it’s here,” Augustus said. “Just looking around at the talent here and the energy today was great. The players here, they want to learn and that’s the great thing about it.”
Make sure to check back at Zone Coverage throughout the opening week of training camp to check out our extensive coverage of the Minnesota Lynx as they prepare for the start of the 2019 WNBA season.