Flashing back to just a few seasons ago, many around the WNBA viewed the Minnesota Lynx as a team that was going to eventually experience gradual turnover of their roster with the growing experience and age of Minnesota’s personnel.
The change and transition into a new era were a few things the Lynx themselves also expected and have braced themselves for over that period, but what Minnesota perhaps didn’t brace itself for was that change and transition happening all at once and during one offseason.
From the time the 2018 season ended with the Lynx falling to the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs, the transition into a new era of Lynx basketball officially began.
Lindsay Whalen, a key emotional leader and contributor to the team’s success over the last near-decade, had retired. Maya Moore, one of the top players in the world, announced she was going to sit out the 2019 season. Rebekkah Brunson, another emotional leader that has been at the center of the organization’s success, had been – and will remain for a little while – sidelined while trying to overcome concussion-like symptoms.
Three future Hall of Famers, now all absent. That change has forced Minnesota to look for help to fill some big holes. Along with the hopefully expanded leadership of veterans and WNBA All-Stars Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx will insert two other players into big roles in 2019.
Those players being point guard Danielle Robinson and newly acquired guard Odyssey Sims.
“We’re different, but we are the same kind of. Danielle, she is very crafty and she is going to be fun to play with this season. She moves great without the ball, she pushes the ball, she knows how to stop and start and that’s very important,” Sims told the media during training camp this week.
“I’m learning from her with this being her eighth year in the league and it being my sixth, so I’m just being a sponge learning as much as I can from the coaches and alongside the vets. I trust them, they know how to win and they know what it takes to get back to where they were years ago. That’s what we are trying to build and are working towards now.
“This is a good opportunity for me and I think we are going to have a fun season. I think we are going to do a lot better than everyone is expecting. We’ve been working and I’m excited.”
The Addition of Sims
One of the more surprising moves throughout the WNBA this offseason was Minnesota’s acquisition of Sims in a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks that sent young guard Alexis Jones to Los Angeles.
One of the reasons that the move was so surprising was due to the public rivalry that Sims and the Lynx have established over the years in the rivalry between Minnesota and Los Angeles, more notably the rivalry that Sims has created with the now-retired Whalen.
“It’s a part of the past, it’s a part of a rivalry in the past. Odyssey has been so eager to dive into what we’re doing. Every once in a while, I might look to get a dig in there about the ring in 2017, but other than that, it was between Lindsay and Odyssey and a different team,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “It is fun to reminisce about that, but I don’t want to bring it up to her because she smiles and she’s in a really good place.”
Sims admitted during the week that she was a bit surprised by the trade that sent her from the Sparks to the Lynx, but thinks she fits in really well in Minnesota.
“It was kind of shocking, I told Cheryl that it’s a little different and I never thought I would be playing for Minnesota. Just because of this program, the history that they have. This is a winning organization and one of the winningest organizations in the WNBA right now,” Sims said. “We’re looking to rebuild and get back on the right track and get back to the playoffs to hopefully win another championship.
“What was before is not what it is now and I’m glad to be a part of this organization and to be a Minnesota Lynx. … I think I look better in blue.”
Sims, who is in her sixth year in the WNBA this season, comes to Minnesota having some familiarity with the organization and its personnel. Along with being familiar with some of the Lynx players, Sims spent time with Reeve on USA Basketball in 2014 and 2018.
“I know that Odyssey has the physical toughness, we learned that with her and Lindsay. The mental toughness, when you’re in the trenches with people you learn that. Right now I don’t know that,” Reeve said. “(Sims brings) that physical toughness, the overused word swag, confidence, she’s a scorer, a physical defender, pushes pace, applies pressure. She brings a lot to the table.”
Sims, who will add to the toughness we will see among the Lynx team this season, will get a solid amount of playing time immediately within Minnesota’s rotation this summer. The 5-foot-8 guard spent the last two seasons with the Sparks, averaging 8.2 points, 2.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds and shot 38.8 percent from the field a year ago.
“Odyssey is going to be on the floor, I’ve told her that,” Reeve said. “She’s really good at the (shooting guard position) and certainly will play some (point guard), but she’s going to be on the floor and playing with Danielle I assume a decent amount. She’s ready for whatever role at whatever amount.”
The 26-year-old Sims, who will turn 27 in July, will fit in nicely to what the Lynx will try and incorporate on both ends of the court in 2019. And even with an interesting past, she has created with the organization over the last few seasons, Sims is excited to be here in Minnesota this summer.
“This being my third organization since being in the WNBA, this is by far the best. They take care of you, they are all about communication and they want to make sure how you are and how you’re feeling. That’s something that I’m not used to,” Sims said of the Lynx. “Just knowing that they take care of their players and they really care about your wellbeing and they are not just worried about themselves. Here, everyone is a team and they are worried about their teammates more so than each other individually.”
Robinson Taking Over at the Point
One large hole that will need to be filled this season is at the point guard position following the retirement of Whalen after the conclusion of last year.
Robinson, now entering her second season in Minnesota after being traded here from Phoenix in 2018, is ready to step into that role and the Lynx will certainly need her to get adjusted to the starting role as quick as possible.
“(That relationship) is already there with Danielle. I’m a communicator and that’s off the court as well. I want her in my office and we watch video together and it’s like a crash course because it’s now her team,” Reeve said. “Last year was difficult, it was like half her team and she didn’t know when she should do things, but now it is her and she knows what is needed of her. It’s going to look different, but it’s my job to learn what is different and make sure I am gearing more towards Danielle.
“I had a couple moments early on in the offseason when I would do something and I would be like, oh shoot I’m sorry that’s what I used to do with Lindsay,” Reeve continued. “I had to catch myself, but at this point I think we are clear and Danielle’s skillset is different as far as what Lindsay’s was and we will see what her play calls are. I have to learn all of that part of it.”
The end of last season and the offseason was an important process in the growth and knowledge of Robinson.
The speedy guard, who suffered a season-ended Achilles injury on Aug. 9 that required surgery, sat out the latter part of 2018 and wasn’t able to jump right into training this offseason as she prepared to take over the starting point guard duties this summer.
“It was tough. There would be times that I would call my mom and just be like ‘man, I want to walk’ or the fact that it was a lot to take my scooter down to the car and put it in the trunk and hop around to the driver’s seat to get in. I knew that I had to do it and I think that’s where my Achilles injury helped me a lot because it was about the discipline,” Robinson said. “At times, you’re like maybe I can get away with a little toe touch, but no you can’t do anything. It was hard, but I’m glad I got off of it before winter. That was key.
“I feel great. I got cleared on Feb. 11, so it’s been a while. I feel really good.”
Robinson elected to remain in Minnesota all offseason to conduct her rehab and fight back from the injury, something that was her choice and was something she was very glad that she did.
“I don’t think there is any greater place than Mayo. Our staff has been unbelievable, (the training staff) made sure that I had everything here that I needed,” Robinson continued. “It was good for me to be here because I also got to spend time with coach and (assistant coach) Walt (Hopkins) and get a head start on everything and how they want me to lead and how they want me to be this year. It wasn’t even a choice for me to go home, I knew I wasn’t going to go home and I wanted to stay here.
“To be able to see these faces every single day, spend time with them, have lunch with them, go watch the Wolves when they have practices, and just become more entrusted in this franchise. It was huge for me to be here.”
In 2018, Robinson averaged 6.5 points, 3.3 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals and shot 44.5 percent from the field in 28 games serving as the primary backup point guard to Whalen. Along with being able to learn behind Whalen, Robinson also got some experience in the starting unit before her injury while Whalen was sidelined.
“She’s going to make it look so seamless that we are going to forget that she just had a nine-month injury. She has worked probably as hard as I’ve seen anybody in my 19 years in the WNBA, in terms of how hard and the things she put her body through to be ready,” Reeve said of Robinson. “We want her to be healed, but her game has gotten better. That’s hard to do at the same time. She is really eager to lead this team and she is very prideful.
“She knows what you guys are all thinking as far as Lindsay Whalen and there’s going to be a drop off because it’s not Lindsay Whalen anymore, but you guys keep writing that because that really helps me with Danielle. … I think the thing that I’ve done more with Danielle is I want her to be her.”
Robinson has had a long road back to recovery since her season-ending injury from 2018, but she feels as though she is ready and is finally healthy enough to take over the starting point guard role for the Lynx this season.
“The way that I worked and wanted to show them the way that I want to lead, it was huge for me to be here,” Robinson said. “It didn’t matter if I was hurt and I couldn’t do everything, I was going to show them the moment that I got on the court that this is what I wanted to do and that they can trust me with the reins.”