The offseason is officially in full swing for the Minnesota Lynx and the rest of the WNBA after the Chicago Sky claimed the 2021 championship in the WNBA Finals by defeating the Phoenix Mercury in four games in October.
All 12 teams have now put the 2021 campaign in the past, the focus shifts to the offseason in preparation for the 2022 season which will tip-off in May.
With questions such as possible league expansion, an adjustment to the current playoff format, and other topics on the minds and topics of conversation around the league, each team — especially the Lynx — have questions of their own to address before the new season commences.
Before offseason events begin to take place, including the start of free agency in mid-January, the WNBA Draft in April and training camp in late April, let’s take a look at some of the bigger questions specifically for Minnesota to address this offseason.
Status of Sylvia Fowles?
One of the biggest storylines to follow this offseason will be the status of Fowles and if she decides to return for her 15th season or if she decides to step away and retire.
After the conclusion of the playoffs, which saw Minnesota fall to Chicago in the single-elimination second round, Fowles said she is undecided whether or not she will return to the WNBA next year or if she decides to begin her post-playing career life outside of basketball.
Although it would be surprising to see Fowles step away, especially after the career year she put together in 2021 which resulted in the veteran center winning the Defensive Player of the Year award, it seems to be a real possibility for her to retire as a two-time WNBA champion, 2017 WNBA MVP, two-time Finals MVP, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-Star and four-time Olympic Gold Medalist.
If Fowles were to retire, that would leave a huge hole in the post for the Lynx and would be a position Minnesota would have to address this offseason either in free agency or via the trade market. Without Fowles’ contract on the books, that would allow the Lynx to be more aggressive in trying to find her replacement, even though it would still be hard to replace her talent and presence she brings both on the floor and in the locker room.
Fowles is an unrestricted free agent as well, so even if she does decide to return in 2022, she could surprise everyone and take the floor for another team. However, that seems unlikely. Either way, the offseason plan for the Lynx will revolve around the decision Fowles makes in returning or retiring.
Who Are Free Agents?
The Lynx have a few free agents set to hit the open market this offseason, but Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve noted after the season the team would like to work in bringing back most if not all of their upcoming free agents.
Fowles, Layshia Clarendon, and Rachel Banham will be unrestricted free agents, meaning they are free to discuss terms and sign a contract with any team of their choice. Bridget Carleton holds the reserved free agent designation, meaning she can only negotiate with Minnesota and is not allowed to discuss terms or sign with any other team.
Cecilia Zandalasini, Maya Moore, and Anna Cruz are other players to monitor who the Lynx hold rights to currently, although it would be unlikely they get added to the roster this offseason. Zandalasini and Moore were both applied the suspended designation in 2021 and the Lynx, therefore, retain their rights and restrict them from signing with any other team. Cruz, like Carleton, holds the reserved designation this offseason.
Some of the more likely free agents to return are Fowles, Clarendon, and Carleton. It will be interesting to see what Reeve and Co. do with Banham. Either way, it could be a quiet free agency this year compared to last offseason.
Will It Be Another Aggressive Offseason?
The short answer to this question is no. We shouldn’t expect to see an aggressive offseason again this winter compared to what took place last year.
After a busy and aggressive offseason leading up to the 2021 season that saw Minnesota sign Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride, and Aerial Powers off the free-agent market, the Lynx are in a much different situation this time around. Their cap space situation will restrict them from making any splashes in free agency once again.
If the Lynx re-sign most or all of their free agents, that would leave enough in salary cap room to add a player via the draft, meaning there really isn’t any room to add any free agents or at the very least be as aggressive as what we saw last year.
How Might the Roster Look?
Assuming the bulk of the upcoming free agents noted earlier return to Minnesota next season, the 2022 roster would look very similar to what we saw took the floor during the 2021 season.
As far as a roster breakdown, the rotations should return to what appeared in 2021 as well, with the insertion of Rennia Davis – who missed her entire rookie campaign this summer due to a foot injury – and the potential incoming rookie via the draft also fitting into the roster.
The last few years, Minnesota has seen a decent amount of change year-over-year when it comes to the rotation and the roster as a whole. But going into 2022, we shouldn’t expect to see much of a difference or drastic change.
Contenders Again in Next Summer?
The final question that will be asked this offseason and leading up to the new year is if the Lynx will be able to improve upon their performance in 2021 to once again be considered contenders in 2022.
After coming into the 2021 campaign unprepared for training camp according to Reeve, the Lynx experienced a slow start to the season while dealing with some late arrivals and some new additions to incorporate into the team. Despite those early-season hurdles and eventual injuries that appeared throughout the year, Minnesota put together a strong second half of the regular season to grab the No. 3 seed and advance to the second round of the WNBA Playoffs.
Although their season ended after just one postseason game, many viewed Minnesota as a legitimate contender for the first time since it claimed the league title in 2017. That alone was a big step forward for the organization in returning to the annual powerhouse we’ve seen over the last decade.
In 2022, if the Lynx can come into training camp more prepared and can hit the ground running with basically the entire roster likely to return, they should be able to improve upon what was accomplished in 2021 and could end up fighting for a league championship next October.
With another season in the books and a new offseason among us, there are plenty of questions yet to be answered for the Lynx before the new year can begin. As always, you can never count out Reeve and Co. in trying to get creative and make some moves to improve the team as much as possible before opening night in 2022.