It’s officially that time of the year once again. The 2019 WNBA season is upon us.
The Minnesota Lynx will kick off the regular season on Saturday when it hosts the Chicago Sky at 7 p.m. at Target Center in the first game of the year.
After a busy offseason that saw more turnover to the roster than what many expected or anticipated, the Lynx will be faced with challenges they haven’t experienced for a long period of time.
For most of the past decade, Minnesota has been used to high expectations entering a season, often being projected as one of the top teams in the WNBA and a team that is often in the running to compete for a league championship.
Not that they won’t be in the running this year, but the Lynx might have a more challenging road than in the past. But it’s something they are looking forward to going through together.
“Whether you’re picked to win (the WNBA Championship) or not, we really don’t care. … It really doesn’t matter to us. We have so much work to do as a team to play well, so that’s our focus,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve told the media this week during practice. “It’s the same way I would have done three years ago, you don’t focus on what the externals say, you focus on your locker room.
“We still have a lot to do. Being connected as a group is atop of that. … I think this is a good time for our franchise in terms of player development. I like what our staff looks like. … It’s not going to be easy.”
Before Minnesota opens up the regular season slate on Saturday, let’s break down the roster and take a deeper dive into this Lynx team we will see take the floor this summer.
The Returning Group
When you look over the roster that Minnesota will start the regular season with this weekend, there are only a handful of faces that remain following the organization’s successful stretch over the last handful of years.
The players that will return to the Lynx in 2019 from a season ago include just four of the 12 players on the roster.
They include guard Danielle Robinson, center Temi Fagbenle (when she returns from being on the WNBA’s Temporary Suspended List), center Sylvia Fowles and wing Seimone Augustus.
“It’s really important (to have them), really important. Especially (Fowles and Augustus), because they are both so giving as teammates, and they embrace the idea of teaching,” Reeve said during training camp. “As I told them, I don’t want them to have to start worrying too much. That’s what can start to happen, you worry about everyone else and not yourself.”
Wing Cecilia Zandalasini and forward Rebekkah Brunson are also two familiar names that we could see throughout the summer, given they both return to the team in 2019. Zandalasini remains unsigned for the time being to finish up overseas commitments, while Brunson is still trying to recover from suffering a concussion in 2018.
“To me, it’s expected. It’s expected that (the returning players) continue to be leaders,” Reeve said. “We always lead by committee as far as leadership, so it’s Seimone, it’s Syl and it’s Danielle. Those are my three captains, so it’s always been by committee and they bounce things off of each other.
“I’ve always said this, you go as your captains go, so for us, we will go as Danielle, Syl and Seimone go. If they are going well, playing well and connected with their teammates, we will do well.”
The returning group that Minnesota will have heading into the season embrace the opportunity to continue to teach the incoming players “the Lynx way” of winning.
“I have a lot of knowledge to pass along to the young people. … We have to start to now create a Maya (Moore), a (Lindsay) Whalen, a (Rebekkah) Brunson out of the players that we do have and it’s going to take some time, but you can definitely see the potential and talent,” Augustus said at the team’s Media Day. “We want to keep that winning mindset. Even if we do take a few L’s during the season, know that’s just right now and we can always get our stuff together, we can keep working hard and gelling to get to where we want to be.
“I’ve always been a leader by example. … Now, it’s just more teaching.”
Even with the new additions and roster turnover, the core that the Lynx carry over from a year ago don’t view this season as any different from their successful years of the past. And they look forward to continuing that success this summer.
“I felt like I was (a leader) when we had everybody else here. Lindsay pretty much set that tone and we pretty much just followed that foundation. It’s easy to pick up when you have that set foundation, so my job is pretty much the same,” Fowles said about stepping into more of a leadership role. “I talk a little bit every now and then, but not too much where I overstep my boundaries, but I try to lead by example for the most part.
“My role is pretty much the same, and that’s to go out there and to play hard the best way that I can. Make sure I’m leading, make sure that I’m being vocal and make sure I am doing what I do best and that’s just being me.”
The New Additions
Roster turnover is something that the Lynx haven’t had to deal with much for the last decade, but in 2019 it’s a different story for the four-time WNBA champions.
Excluding the rookie class and the returning players, Minnesota’s 12-person roster includes six players who were added to the team throughout the offseason.
They include names that will get a solid amount of playing time throughout the season, such as forward Karima Christmas-Kelly, guard Odyssey Sims, guard Lexie Brown, forward Stephanie Talbot, center Alaina Coates and forward Damiris Dantas.
“I’m in a place where I know they have proven success and they have great players. That was definitely a point of emphasis and why I ended up here,” Christmas-Kelly said during Media Day. “Your head is still spinning when you’re coming in as a new player. … It’s definitely a learning curve. … Everybody is just trying to do the best that we can and hopefully we can talk each other through it.”
More specifically when it comes to Christmas-Kelly and Dantas, both players will likely begin the 2019 season in the starting lineup for the Lynx. Sims, Brown and the rest of the supporting cast will get a nice amount of playing time within the second unit initially.
“I think this is one of the biggest blessings for me, for sure,” Brown said about being in Minnesota. “Me personally, I think I am just going to have to get used to a role coming off the bench. … We can help elevate a team when they are rolling or pick a team up when they are struggling a bit. That’s a role that I’ve never had to deal with before, but I am excited to embrace this role and try and help the team.”
For a bulk of the newcomers this season, although there will be a learning curve, they are happy to be in Minnesota and ready to get the season started this weekend as a member of the Lynx.
“They know how to win. I didn’t realize that until I got here,” Sims said during Media Day. “This team has four championships and it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, they just win every other year and this,’ but until you’re here and in practice and actually see for yourself and now that I’m a part of this organization you see why. They are very professional. I walk in here with pride and I come to work every day happy. I think this is the happiest I’ve been since I’ve been in the league. Just to know that when I roll out of bed I come to work with teammates like Seimone that are really goofy. … I just feel so much love here.
“I’m just happy to be a part of this organization and it definitely doesn’t feel awkward. Every time I put on a Lynx jersey I smile, and I’ve been smiling from ear to ear since I got to Minnesota.”
The Rookie Class
Throughout Minnesota’s success in years past, it’s been well documented that it’s been a veteran-heavy team.
Along with the six new – yet still relatively young – players to this year’s roster, the Lynx will also break out of training camp with three rookies on the team for the first since 2014.
Those players that are entering their inaugural season include 2019 first-round draft pick Napheesa Collier, 2019 second-round pick Jessica Shepard and free agent signee Shao Ting.
“A lot of people are worried about me,” Reeve joked during training camp. “I don’t have very many veterans, they are worried about me that I’m going to break out in hives and maybe not make it through the season. I hope that I can be an amoeba in whatever the team needs. Whatever it is, whatever is asked of me, I hope I can be that.
“This calls for something different. I will work really hard in teaching to bring along the young ones. … This is a different time in our franchise, so I hope I can be that amoeba.”
If the preseason games were an early indication as to how much playing time the rookies might get during the regular season, we could see Collier and Shepard on the floor for the Lynx often throughout the summer. As far as Ting, it might be harder for her to find consistent playing time during the year.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now. … You have no choice but to take things in as fast as you can and get adjusted as quickly as possible,” Collier said during Media Day. “I think in the beginning you’re just trying to fit into the offense and trying to get acclimated in general. … I’m going to do whatever on the court to help this team win.”
One thing is clear as Minnesota opens up the regular season slate on Saturday night against Chicago: This is a new era of Lynx basketball.
From a shift in personnel as far as leadership among the returning core players, to the new faces that were acquired during the offseason, to the rookie class that has been brought in this summer, Minnesota will contain a different look and a different style of play than what many got accustomed to seeing from one of the WNBA’s most successful franchises to date.
But even with a new era beginning, the Lynx are focused on getting this season off to a strong start on Saturday and are looking forward to the opportunity to carry on the success from years past into the 2019 campaign.
“Things are going great right now. … Just the group that we have is special. I think this year is going to be a fun and exciting year and we’re all just anxious for the season to start,” Sims said. “We are going to continue to get better and we are going to make sure we are correcting the small things.
“We won’t be perfect, we are going to have our ups and downs this season, but we’re ready for the first game.”
Training Camp Stories
Did you miss any of the stories here at Zone Coverage throughout Minnesota’s training camp?
You can catch up on all things Lynx prior to Saturday’s season opener below: