Three seasons ago the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks to claim their fourth WNBA title over an impressive seven-year span. But since 2017 Minnesota has failed to return to the WNBA Finals as they were undergoing a roster turnover from that dynasty stretch.
As the roster once fronted by the likes of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, and Rebekkah Brunson now belongs to Napheesa Collier, Sylvia Fowles, Crystal Dangerfield, and Co. The Lynx were determined to not protract their rebuild as they aimed to snap back into championship contention.
Entering the 2021 season, they feel that it has returned to being a championship-caliber team following an impressive offseason only a month and a half into the free agency process.
“I was bound and determined not to let (a rebuild) happen. There were a lot of people that were rooting for the demise of the Minnesota Lynx,” head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said last week. “We’ve become a team that has got to be the most likable winning team in the history of sports because we had so many likable players. The most likable, but yet the most hated, because people are just tired of the success.
“I was at a crossroads as well and was saying to Glen (Taylor) ‘I’m not here for any sort of rebuild. I’m not here for doing this where you have to build through the draft. That’s not me and I want to keep this thing going.’ I feel very fortunate that we have been able to.”
The Lynx come came into the offseason with plenty of cap space available to make a splash in free agency. They began by signing the impressive unrestricted free-agent trio of Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa. Those additions will not only add to the starting lineup, but also to team depth in various roles.
“Win a championship with a different team. … That’s what it’s about,” Reeve said. “You want people that are going to be selfless and it’s about the team first and achieving our goal of winning a championship.
“I’m pretty darn greedy. … The goal is to do more for Glen and continue to be a team that he’s proud of and has put his support behind. That’s what we’re coming for, that’s what’s next,” Reeve continued. “When (other teams) start liking you, that means they’re beating you. I do not want to be that franchise.”
CHANGES ALREADY MADE TO THE ROSTER
Usually, the Lynx aren’t active in free agency or the trade market.
This offseason was a bit different, due in part to Minnesota’s recent roster turnover and apparent holes throughout the depth chart. It also helps that the Lynx had more cap space than in previous offseasons, with the new collective bargaining agreement resulting in a larger salary cap for every WNBA team.
“There couldn’t be better timing for us that the CBA is going to allow for better movement. … In the (old) CBA, you might not have seen that,” Reeve said. “For us, at this time, this CBA was perfect. … I think it’s an exciting time in our league.”
The Lynx proved they are ready to go all-in in 2021 following an impressive free agency already. In addition to the new signings, Minnesota traded away forward Erica McCall last week, sending her to the Washington Mystics in a sign-and-trade deal that brought a 2022 third-round draft pick back.
When it comes to the free agency additions, McBride will move into Minnesota’s starting lineup to provide a talented offensive threat at the guard position alongside Dangerfield at the point. Powers could see time both as a starter or coming off the bench, while Achonwa will give Minnesota some nice depth in the paint alongside Fowles and Damiris Dantas.
“I’m here to add to the players who are around us. It’s about how I can complement who we already have,” McBride said last week. “Sylvia Fowles is still on this team, Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, who was Rookie of the Year, Dantas. There’s so much talent on this team already. … It was a no-brainer to be a part of something like that.”
OFFSEASON MOVES THAT COULD STILL HAPPEN
Although Minnesota might be done going after additional free agents due to dwindling room in their salary cap, they could still make some noise on the trade market, and the draft is right around the corner in April.
In the draft, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota would look to keep more rookie players on the roster in 2021, which means the Lynx could try and trade draft assets — perhaps along with a player or two — in a deal.
Outside of that, the Lynx still have some decisions to make when it comes to current free agents. Those players including Shenise Johnson, Kayla Alexander, Temi Fagbenle, Maya Moore, and Cecilia Zandalasini.
“I know we’ve established ourselves as a player, where we knew we could be a player in free agency,” Reeve said. “We have the best facilities of any team in the WNBA and it’s not even close. We feel like we have the best owner in the WNBA. When we say it starts at the top, these are really subtle things that are incredibly valuable. … We have a team that people think a lot of and want to play alongside of.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE LYNX?
With the moves already made this offseason, the question of what’s next for the Lynx has arrived. The roster has taken shape and won’t change too significantly before the start of the 2021 season, but there are a few questions still to be answered before opening day this summer.
Minnesota is focused on evolution, and that means a few players from past seasons may have played their last games in a Lynx uniform, in particular Moore and Zandalasini.
The play of Collier and the signing of both McBride and Powers could very well mean we have seen the last of Moore with the Lynx, and maybe even in the WNBA at large. When it comes to Zandalasini, the Lynx have said they would like to have her back, but it might officially be time for the two sides to move on considering she hasn’t played in the WNBA since 2017.
Despite some key decisions yet to be announced, these new-look Lynx feel more than capable of competing for a championship this summer.
“There’s no such thing as a rebuild in Minnesota,” Achonwa said. “That is a big piece of why I wanted to come to Minnesota is I want to win. I would love a championship. … I would love to bring that home and win a championship in the WNBA and that is a now thing.”