Can the Lynx Turn A Slow Start Into A Strong Finish In 2022?

(image credit: screenshot from Minnesota Lynx on YouTube)

The 2022 season has not started the way the Minnesota Lynx envisioned or would have liked. A week into the new year, the Lynx stood as the last remaining team without a win in the WNBA for a second consecutive season, quickly dropping down the league standings once again.

As a result of that slow start to the new year, Minnesota head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve started moving pieces on the team to try and figure things out and field a team that could turn things around. Reeve and Co. unleashed an unusual amount of transactions within the first week or so of the season, shifting the look of the roster that many thought the Lynx would enter the year with.

Now, Minnesota hopes the pieces start to gel fast as they did in 2021. Last year they finished 20-11 and grabbed a top-three seed in the league. With all the players who have come and gone entering the second week of the regular season, the mission of turning things around starts now for the Lynx.

Early-Season Roster Turnover­­­­

Minnesota entered training camp in mid-April with some major decisions to make on a roster that would soon be narrowed down to 11 leading into the regular season.

With a handful of players they needed to cut to finalize the roster ahead of the new year, the Lynx made some surprising cuts featuring 2021 starting point guard Layshia Clarendon, 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield, 2021 first-round pick Rennia Davis and 2022 draft picks Kayla Jones and Hannah Sjerven.

Even with the final 11 players set as the regular season began on May 6, the moves didn’t stop there for Minnesota. They shifted even more players around due to early-season injuries, late arrivals, and lack of production. After the wave of final roster cuts out of training camp, the Lynx signed former Minnesota guard Odyssey Sims to fill in the void for Clarendon and Dangerfield, pairing her alongside Rachel Banham to lead the point guard group.

One week after that transaction took place, Reeve and Co. surprised everyone with a handful of roster moves to suddenly change the look of the team. They released Sims, and Minnesota also agreed to a contract buyout with veteran forward Angel McCoughtry, who signed with the team as a free agent this offseason.

Then they had to refill the roster. The Lynx signed veteran point guard Moriah Jefferson to take over as starting point guard. They also signed rookie point guard Evina Westbrook on a full-season contract and re-signed Nikolina Milic, Sjerven, and Yvonne Turner on hardship contracts to fill in for current Lynx players out or away from the team.

“We just didn’t feel like, to start the season, we were in a good place physically,” Reeve said at the start of the year. “I’ve wanted to see a different outcome, but it’s beyond our control.”

It’s not uncommon to see teams make these types of moves throughout a season, but the fact that these all took place within a week at the start of the new year was surprising. But they are moves Minnesota hopes pay off as it tries to turn around a slow start to the year in the first month of play.

“We will do what we have to do to get where we want to go. … We’re taking steps,” Reeve said. “We will keep tweaking until we have the team we want.”

Trying to Replicate 2021

Although starting a season with a winless 0-4 record isn’t the way any team would want to begin the year, it’s the reality Minnesota faced through the first week of the regular season. But it’s not the first time the Lynx have gone through that type of start. It happened just last summer.

In 2021, the Lynx began the season 0-4 and was the final team in the WNBA to crack the win column. However, Minnesota bounced back strong and quickly emerged as one of the top teams in the league while winning 20 of the final 26 contests. They earned the No. 3 seed in the WNBA standings and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

This summer, the Lynx have started the year the exact same way, and they hope they are able to replicate the strong conclusion to the season like they did a year ago.

“We definitely didn’t want to go down that road (like in 2021),” Sylvia Fowles said. “We just have to figure out what works and be really good at what works. What don’t work, making sure we can be better for each other. … Hopefully, we can really lock in with what we have to take care of.”

Improvement should come soon for Minnesota, with some new and old faces starting to breathe some air into a team that hasn’t had a lot of positives thus far. Even though wins have yet to follow, the Lynx seem to be in a much better place going into the second week of the regular season than they did in the early stages of the first week of play.

For starters, the pairing of Jefferson and Westbrook at guard has given the Lynx a nice duo as floor generals. The Lynx are also getting All-Star wing Kayla McBride back from overseas play this week to insert a key piece back into the rotation, while forward Damiris Dantas is expected to be about a week or two away from making her debut after rehabbing a foot injury.

“We gotta get better,” Fowles said. “We just have to make sure we stay together as a team, make sure we treat each other right and also work on the things we’ve been lacking.”

Although the start to the year has been filled with surprising roster moves and another disappointing slow start, the Lynx have been in this situation before. They are confident there is still plenty of time to recover and improve throughout the 36-game regular-season schedule.

If the trend of a slow start does continue, more moves and roster tweaking will likely follow to ultimately figure things out. In an already short year that is a WNBA regular season, spanning four months, there isn’t much time to waste. And in 2022, there’s already an increased sense of urgency in Minnesota to try and put together the best possible team to send Fowles off on a high note in her career finale

“You never want to start this way, but I have confidence in this team. We’re trying to figure it out,” Banham said. “We need Minnesota to stick with us and our fans to stick with us. We’ll keep working hard.”

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