While sitting about four months away from the start of the 2020 season for the Minnesota Lynx and the rest of the WNBA in mid-May, things are about to pick up throughout the league.
With free agency negotiations opening up at the end of January and players being able to sign with respective teams shortly thereafter in February, along with the annual WNBA Draft set to take place in April, rosters among the 12 teams in the league are about to take shape ahead of the year tipping off the regular-season schedule on May 15.
As the season continues to inch closer, there were a few big news items that were announced in the last week surrounding both the Lynx and the league in general.
To kick off the wave of news around the WNBA, the league and the WNBA Players’ Association announced on Tuesday that they have reached a new eight-year landmark Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will result in improved player compensation, benefits and more over the course of the near decade-long deal.
Later that day, Minnesota announced that the organization hired former Lynx great Katie Smith as an assistant coach within head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve’s coaching staff. Following the departure of Walt Hopkins to New York to become the head coach of the Liberty, Smith will join Reeve’s staff alongside fellow assistant and former Lynx player Plenette Pierson.
Along with that announcement of Smith returning to Minnesota, there is the expectation that longtime assistant coach Shelley Patterson is going to leave the Lynx to join Hopkins’ staff in New York.
To round out the busy news week, the WNBA and Lynx released the official 2020 regular season schedule, along with announcing information on the addition of the Commissioner’s Cup in-season tournament, an expanded schedule of 36 games and an increase in nationally-televised games.
With the 2020 season quickly approaching, let’s take a look at some of your submitted questions surrounding the Lynx and the league in general in this Lynx mailbag.
The switch over in the calendar year also means the start of the free agency period within the WNBA is nearly here.
At the end of the month of January, specifically on Jan. 28, teams can begin negotiating with free agents around the league. Shortly after, beginning on Feb. 10, players and organizations can begin to agree to contracts and we will start seeing players sign with teams at that point.
When it comes to a list of free agents, although the official list that the WNBA normally has on its website once free agency officially kicks off hasn’t been released yet, Spotrac.com has a nice breakdown featuring the various impending free agents this offseason.
As far as the Lynx are concerned on their end of things, there are a few notable names that will go into the offseason as free agents and aren’t currently under contract in Minnesota. Those players include the Seimone Augustus, Danielle Robinson and Temi Fagbenle, among others. There’s also the unanswered question of what exactly Rebekkah Brunson’s plan is for her playing career moving forward.
When looking specifically at Augustus, Robinson and Fagbenle, three players who played large roles for the Lynx in 2019, Minnesota will certainly have the ability to retain those players going into 2020.
Augustus won’t be going anywhere going into the summer, as she is expected to retire from the league following the 2020 campaign.
Robinson and the Lynx have a very good relationship and I would expect her to return as well, although the organization might look to add to the guard unit throughout the offseason alongside her and Odyssey Sims.
Fagbenle will be an interesting piece. With her coming off her rookie contract, it will be interesting to see what kind of contract she is looking for and if Reeve and co. have enough cap space as free agency unfolds to retain her prior to the start of the new year.
For the first time in a few years, the Lynx have a relatively short list of free agents set to hit the market during the offseason. But Minnesota could continue to look to add to its squad while trying to retain those three pieces to the rotation ahead of the 2020 season.
Kristi Wraspir: In your opinion what do Lynx need (development of current players or type of new players) to become a contender this year?
As far as what Minnesota needs to do this offseason and leading up to the 2020 season to try and return to contending for a WNBA title this summer, I believe, lies within the point guard position and guard slot in general (I dive into this even more in the next question below).
I think the Lynx will try and add to their guard unit during the offseason to try and help bring some more consistency within that unit.
Outside of the guard positions, Minnesota has a relatively solid roster that looks to be taking shape ahead of the new year.
With Robinson, Sims and Lexie Brown at the guard slots, the Lynx have a nice spread of depth throughout the rest of their roster and rotation for the most part.
At the wing positions, you obviously have Napheesa Collier who has quickly become a cornerstone piece for the organization and will look to continue to evolve into one of the more impactful players in the WNBA.
Outside of Collier, another interesting piece that would make for a nice return back to Minnesota is Cecilia Zandalasini, who Reeve and company hope is able to get back to the league this year after playing overseas and then missing the opportunity to play in the WNBA while dealing with injury issues. Zandalasini immediately provides the Lynx with a scoring threat on offense and she is able to shift between the forward and guard spots within the rotation.
At the forward and post position, the presence and dominance of Sylvia Fowles will continue to be needed in order for Minnesota to continue to look to improve. When Fowles is having a solid presence on this team and is performing well, the Lynx success goes up a notch as a result. Behind Fowles, Damiris Dantas and Fagbenle — who is currently a free agent — were also two nice pieces to pair alongside Fowles in the paint. Dantas specifically helped elevate that unit with her play during the 2019 season.
Overall, I think the Lynx roster is relatively balanced and has some nice depth to it. But one need that will have to be addressed lies within the guard position. If Minnesota can add to that group with the addition of an impact player, it could make a nice step back towards trying to become a contending team in 2020.
One of the biggest question marks that appeared throughout the year and especially was exposed in the loss to the Seattle Storm in the opening round of the playoffs in 2019 was the play of the Lynx guards.
Robinson and Sims were the two primary ball-handlers within the Minnesota starting unit during the year, with some assistance from Brown (a guard) and Collier (a wing) at points throughout the season.
Robinson, taking over for Lindsay Whalen following the point guard’s retirement after the 2018 season, saw a nice increase in performance and also playing time in 2019. The biggest question surrounding Robinson was her consistancy and providing Minnesota with an offensive scoring threat at the point guard position.
Sims put together a career-best season in her first season with the Lynx last year, which saw her earn her first WNBA All-Star appearance of her career. The guard was one of the more consistent offensive threats for Minnesota and paired nicely alongside Fowles in the paint for the Lynx.
Going into free agency, Sims is currently under contract with Minnesota while the Lynx could very well retain Robinson — who is an unrestricted free agent — to reunite that guard unit in 2020.
When it comes to the potential of adding a piece to that group and help with both depth and consistency ahead of the upcoming year, I think it is very likely that the Lynx look to add a guard during the offseason.
If I had to guess, I would say that Minnesota looks into free agency while trying to address that need rather than relying on the draft. The Lynx, however, do have the No. 6 selection in the upcoming 2020 WNBA Draft and a solid impact player could emerge that they would be interested in taking at that spot.
Minnesota has the ability to add an impact player via free agency, if it would like to go that route. With Maya Moore likely not returning this summer — or at least that doesn’t look like it will occur — the Lynx have some flexibility within their salary cap to sign a guard to address their need at the position.
According to Sports Illustrated, the WNBA’s salary cap will make a jump from around the $1 million mark to roughly $1.3 million under the new CBA, with maximum salaries for players making a leap from about $118,000 to $215,000 annually. That alone will allow Minnesota the ability to continue to add to its team.
Now, the question of the caliber of talent the Lynx are able to add to the mix comes into question while free agency unfolds. Minnesota could look to go out and try and sign a new starting point guard, moving Robinson back to the second unit much like when she played behind Whalen. Or, the Lynx could aim to keep Robinson in that starting role while adding to the depth and second unit by adding a lower-caliber point guard in free agency.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Minnesota addresses that need and attacks both free agency and the draft this offseason.
That will do it for this edition of the Lynx mailbag. As always, thanks for submitting your questions and for reading, Lynx fans. Enjoy the rest of the offseason while things begin to heat up ahead of the 2020 season.