Officially two weeks into the 2021 WNBA regular season, the Minnesota Lynx finally have their complete roster.
Coming into the year, the Lynx and their fans were looking forward to the free-agent additions of Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa joining the mix of a team headlined by Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier, and Crystal Dangerfield, among others who reached the semifinal round of the playoffs after grabbing the 4-seed last year.
But as the regular season neared, Minnesota realized two key pieces to the team would be late arrivals, and the acclimation process might be impacted early on in the summer as a result. Both McBride and Collier had their seasons overseas go longer than the Lynx would have liked, resulting in the duo arriving after training camp when the rest of the team worked together and got familiar with each other.
After an 0-3 start to the season, Minnesota is still finding its identity to climb out of the early-season hole. But now the Lynx finally have the complete roster stateside for the first time ahead of Friday night’s game against the defending champion Seattle Storm.
“I do feel integrated in with the team. I feel like this week break was great for us,” Collier said on Thursday. “I felt like we got some really great work in. Great team chemistry-building happening, great practices working hard and working through things we’ve struggled with during games. I’m excited for us to play in our game (in Seattle on Friday).”
The full week off to practice has helped McBride and Collier get much-needed time to get familiar with some new faces on the team while figuring out how their games will co-exist with everyone else’s.
McBride joined the team right before the season opener on May 14 against the Phoenix Mercury. She hadn’t really had much practice time with her Lynx teammates until this week. So far this season, McBride has averaged 13 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in three games, shooting 46.2% from the field in 27.3 minutes per game.
“It was actually kind of fun,” McBride said of jumping right into the WNBA season upon arrival. “Coach has been keeping me in the loop while I’ve been overseas with the playbook. I’ve been super excited about this all offseason, and I’m so excited to be here. That’s why I want to be out there, no matter what the circumstances are, to be with my team.”
Collier, who was cleared to resume team activities after her arrival last weekend, returns to the team to begin her third season in the WNBA, looking to emerge as an MVP candidate this summer. Last year, Collier led the Lynx while averaging 16.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks in all 22 games. She also shot 52.3% from the field and 40.8% from three.
“Phee just has to be Phee in terms of she plays with great activity on both ends of the floor,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “I don’t want her to come here thinking she’s going to do hard things and sort of save-us type of thing. Just get in there and do what you do. I think Phee’s natural evolution is getting more comfortable as a player in this league and knows what’s open and when it’s open.
“You just gain so much experience, and we’re looking for Phee to use the experience she has gotten the last couple of years and be able to hurt defenses. … Just to keep on that path, because it’s hard to do year-in and year-out. Just keep being Phee, that’s what she has to focus on, and she’ll help our team.”
As was the case with McBride and the other free-agent acquisitions. Reeve doesn’t want Collier to have to feel like she needs to jump right into the rotation and take things over immediately. Rather, Reeve wants Collier to simply player her game and do what she does best while letting the rest take care of itself.
“I know what I’m good at, I know what my teammates are good at, and I know what we’re supposed to look like,” Collier said. “Like coach said, I need to come in and do things that are within our scheme and what I know how to do as a player and not try to do too much.”
Another New Face Joins Lynx
On Wednesday, the Lynx reportedly added another new piece to the roster following an injury to a key player who will be sidelined indefinitely. Kent Youngblood of The Star Tribune first reported that Minnesota is signing veteran guard Layshia Clarendon, who was waived by the New York Liberty earlier in the season.
Clarendon, a 30-year-old guard in her eighth season in the WNBA, will at least temporarily replace Powers, who will be sidelined indefinitely with a left hamstring strain. Reeve confirmed Thursday that Clarendon had arrived in Minneapolis, and the team was in the process of adding her, but she will have to return two negative COVID tests before being cleared to play. That means she would likely be available to play as soon as Sunday against the Connecticut Sun at Target Center.
“Layshia is in Minneapolis and going through the onboarding process, and we hope to add (her) in a couple of days,” Reeve said Thursday. “I think our team could use this right now in terms of a veteran player who has been in the league, understands how to navigate the pick-and-roll game, and has shown leadership abilities. We thought it was something that was very much worth exploring.”
Like McBride and Collier, Clarendon will also hit the ground running once she is cleared to play with her new squad, which is becoming a common theme early on in the regular season for the Lynx as they try to improve upon a winless start a few weeks into the new year.
“I’m so excited. It was so hard to be overseas or to be at home and watch them play,” Collier said. “Especially when I was at home (going through health and safety protocols), I felt like I was so close yet so far away. I’m excited to put everything we’ve done this week and put it into a game and finally get on the court with these women.”