One week into Layshia Clarendon’s ninth season in the WNBA, the veteran guard was suddenly faced with the question of whether she would return to the basketball court this year — or ever again.
On May 20, the New York Liberty waived Clarendon to make room on the roster for Natasha Howard, who arrived late to her new team after completing her season overseas. An additional move would have to be made by New York, but nobody knew who exactly would be waived or traded to welcome Howard back.
That player ended up being Clarendon, who has also played three years with the Indiana Fever, two-plus seasons with the Atlanta Dream, one-plus with the Connecticut Sun, and was entering her second season in New York this summer. The news of being cut certainly caught Clarendon off-guard.
“I never take for granted playing in this league. I’m one of 144 (players). This is bizarre,” Clarendon said. “I played my ass off in training camp, so I was obviously devastated based on what I was brought there to do with that team.”
As one door closed, another door opened when the Minnesota Lynx came calling.
The 30-year-old Clarendon has been through a lot in the last year-plus. From the mental and emotional rollercoaster that was the WNBA bubble in Florida, to becoming one of the faces of the WNBA’s Say Her Name campaign and social justice council last summer, to also serving as the first vice president of the league’s Players’ Association, to signing with a new team before last year’s campaign.
In the last year, Clarendon also became the first openly trans and non-binary player in the WNBA, identifying as gender non-conforming while using the pronouns she/her/he/him/they/them interchangeably.
Coming off a season in 2020 averaging a career-high 11.5 points and 3.9 assists in 20 games for New York, the former All-Star was looking forward to returning to something like normalcy back with the Liberty this summer. Then, suddenly, Clarendon was surprisingly waived.
“I got the news (of being waived), flew home a few days later with my wife and kid to California,” Clarendon said. “A couple of days after that, I worked out at the gym and got a call from my agent the same day that Cheryl (Reeve) wanted me to come out and play for them. … The whole shebang was a week from when I got cut to when I got (to Minnesota).”
Before last season, Clarendon admitted it came down to deciding between two teams during free agency: New York and Minnesota. Ultimately, Clarendon chose the Liberty.
Then, a week into Year 2 with New York, the guard was forced to find a new home. Clarendon chose to sign a replacement contract — a temporary contract used in case of an injury to a player or players already on the team — with the other team it came down to in free agency: Minnesota.
“For me, I know that God never takes me somewhere where I’m not meant to be,” Clarendon said. “I know I’m here on an injury contract, but let’s see what happens. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time.”
Making an impact in Minnesota
Clarendon made an impact with the Lynx immediately upon arriving in the Twin Cities. Hours after officially signing with Minnesota on May 30, the guard suited up to take on the then-league-leading Connecticut Sun at Target Center, propelling the Lynx to an overtime victory to notch the first win of the season.
Following Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Dream, Minnesota’s third straight win, Clarendon has averaged 10 points, four assists, 3.7 rebounds, and a steal in 24.7 minutes in three games. But it’s not just the statistics that the veteran guard has provided to boost the Lynx; it’s been the leadership Clarendon has brought to the team.
“It’s great having her. The manner she brings to the court and her veteran status,” Napheesa Collier said of her newest teammate. “She’s calm under pressure, she really gets us into what we want to get into, so it’s definitely nice to have her there as our floor general. I think she’s done a great job for us.”
It will be interesting to see if Clarendon remains part of the Lynx for the remainder of the season, given that the replacement contract must be terminated when Aerial Powers (hamstring strain) and/or Rennia Davis (foot fracture) return from their injuries. Clarendon could be re-signed once either Powers or Davis returns, but Minnesota would likely have to waive or trade another player to make room on the roster and get under the salary cap.
If Clarendon continues to carry on this level of play, the Lynx will have no choice but to give a long, hard look into signing the guard for at least the remainder of the season. Clarendon has given Minnesota a lift already, both on and off the court.
“Layshia just brought so much energy. It’s just refreshing,” Rachel Banham said. “I think it’s been a good little burst of energy we needed. Layshia is just a good leader, a veteran that has played in this league and knows what they’re doing.”
Regardless of Clarendon’s status with the Lynx for the remainder of the season, the veteran guard is making the most of the opportunity. And after not knowing what the future would look like just a few weeks ago, Clarendon is enjoying it as long as possible.
“I have a deep faith in that I’ve never gotten into a situation that didn’t work out for my good,” Clarendon said. “I don’t take basketball for granted. … I’ve had a tremendous career playing in this league this long, so I don’t take any moment for granted.”