3 reasons for optimism for the Lynx in 2023
With the franchise’s cornerstone player — Sylvia Fowles — now heading into retirement, what’s the team’s path back to the postseason in 2023?
It’s a strange sight seeing the WNBA playoffs take place without the Minnesota Lynx. That hasn’t happened since the 2010 season.
Much has changed between then and now. A dynasty has come and gone, with the roster since entirely reshuffled.
Change occurs and results fluctuate. Such is life in professional sports. Even with that in mind, the 2022 season wasn’t acceptable by Lynx’s standards. As much was voiced by players and, most importantly, Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve upon the conclusion of a season in which they finished 14-22.
But with the franchise’s cornerstone player — Sylvia Fowles — now heading into retirement, what’s the team’s path back to the postseason in 2023?
Reeve pulled zero punches in her end-of-season media availability.
The coaching staff felt it had to coach effort too many times throughout the season. Issues, she noted, were centered on buy-in, “particularly on the defensive side.”
“That’s ultimately what I think was the demise of our team. We just weren’t very difficult to play against,” Reeve said. “Things that not very good teams do, we did. There were many times I said, ‘These are things that non-playoff teams do,’ and we had too many moments that we did that.”
Frankly, Reeve didn’t think her team was great on that end in 2021, either, when the Lynx earned the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. But the play last summer of Napheesa Collier and Layshia Clarendon served as a band-aid. That was ripped off this season, and the wound festered.
“When you’re not as successful, it’s illuminating. It reveals everything,” Reeve said. “And so we’ve been the same team for two years, we’ve had a team that’s a little more averse to working hard, plain and simple. Want less, not more. Want less drills, not more. And that’s really never been a path of achieving success. It was hard for me to convince them that what we were doing wasn’t good enough, and wanting more for them.”
She tried yelling and screaming. She tried giving players space. None of it worked. So, eventually, she settled for good enough, and just planned around the deficiencies. It worked to an extent, as the Lynx set themselves up to need just one win over their final two games to reach the playoffs. But their final two losses, to Seattle and Connecticut, showed how far they were from competing with the league’s best.
Reeve vowed a shift will take place with next year’s roster. There will be an open-mindedness to all possibilities, including possibly rostering more rookie contracts, with the primary goal of having players who are bought into the principles on which this team’s success have been based.
“I don’t know how many games we’re going to win, but my experience is that when you have a team that believes in the process, and wants to be a part of the process and not just experience an outcome, when you want to be a part of the process and be in it and working hard and giving everything you have, and respecting your teammates and believe in a culture, the wins and losses take care of themselves,” Reeve said.
“This was an outlier year for us in regards to those things not being at the core of who we were. We were easily broken in games. Can we be a different team? We will be a different team next year, for sure.”
The 2023 season marks the first year of prioritization in the WNBA. As part of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, players must now prioritize the league over their overseas play, or face fines and, eventually, suspension.
Players must be in training camp by May 1 next season. That means the Lynx, who have been ravaged by training camp and early-season absences in recent years, will have a legitimate, full-roster training camp next spring to set the foundation for their season.
Kayla McBride has missed games each of the past two years while wrapping up her seasons in Turkey. She noted this week that flying in and joining the team on the go, sans a break, wore her down. But moving forward, she has told her agent and overseas squad that the Lynx are her priority, and she will not miss any team-related activities.
Neither Aerial Powers nor Napheesa Collier plan to play overseas this offseason, either.
Fowles’ departure would figure to leave a gaping hole in the leadership department, but there’s a capable replacement waiting in the wings in Collier. The 25-year-old forward knows this is now her team, and is looking forward to that challenge and the responsibility that comes with it.
“I’m super excited to have that be the case. I’m sad that Syl is gone, obviously. I wish she’d have stayed forever,” Collier said. “But now that I feel like she’s kind of passed the torch down, I definitely want to do it justice and keep the integrity of the team and what she built here for so long, who we are as players, our work ethic, things like that, and uphold that while I’m here.”
Reeve said Collier has “been in good training” for the role.
“She’s still a young player, and there’s lots to go through to build experiences for her,” Reeve said. “But she’s got the temperament, she’s got the game, the work ethic, the buy-in, etc., that you need, that you want players to follow, so she’ll be able to do all those things for us.”
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