Same record, same playoff seed. Ultimately, the same result.
The 2019 Lynx season, on paper, looks so much like 2018. An 18-16 season with a first-round playoff loss. But ask Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve and she’ll tell you she feels a lot better about things now than she did one year ago.
“I was a little more tired a year ago,’’ she said Friday as she and players met with the media two days after their season-ending loss to Seattle. “I remember feeling drained last year, and maybe unclear how things would be. Now I think we have greater clarity.”
Last year the Lynx had, essentially, played out the string of a dominant run that included four WNBA titles in seven years. But Lindsay Whalen already had announced her retirement. Rebekkah Brunson was dealing with concussion issues that would cause her to miss all of 2019. And Maya Moore, compelled to follow her faith and ministry and dive into issues of social justice, was about to decide to sit out at least one season.
It was the prelude to an aggressive offseason that largely remade the team’s roster.
Fast forward to Friday. Reeve has a possible rookie of the year in forward Napheesa Collier (the Associated Press already has picked Collier for that award, the WNBA has not announced its winner yet), plus a solid stretch four in Damiris Dantas. Center Sylvia Fowles has re-upped with a multiyear contract extension and the team hopes to get back injured players Jessica Shepard and Karima Christmas-Kelly next season.
In terms of expectations — at least external expectations — the general feeling over at the team’s practice facility was that they’d been met. Or more.
“We shattered ’em, pretty much,” Fowles said.
That said, Reeve knows that finishing a season tied for sixth in a 12-team league is not where she or the team wants to be.
“We have goals higher than that,” she said. “So how do we best utilize personnel that we have to make any meaningful changes we feel are necessary? Those are all conversations we’re going to have.”
And while this offseason might not be as hectic as last year’s, there are things that have to be determined. Among them:
• Whether Moore, 30, is going to return after a year off.
“If I knew it I would share it,” Reeve said when asked if there was a timetable to learn Moore’s intentions. “Actually, no, I wouldn’t. You know, it’s out there. It’s out there. You just put yourself in my seat, in terms of when you’d like to know. And know you’re just one party. There is a lot more, there are many layers to it. And it is what it is. I know you’d like it to be cut-and-dried, black-and-white, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
That said, Reeve said Moore’s situation would not affect offseason planning.
“We’re continuing to build our team,” she said. “If someone like Maya plays, you just drop it right in. There is nothing that will be in our way, in terms of preparing for next season.”
• Will Seimone Augustus return? Limited to just 12 games after right knee surgery, Augustus will give it time before making that decision.
“I have to listen to my body,” said Augustus, who had said she wanted to make the 2020 season her last. “If my body says that this is the year, I’m more than happy. I’ve seen the foundation of the Lynx, and Napheesa Collier is the face of this team. I’m happy with that.”
• How aggressive will the team be in free agency? This will be something to watch. The only starter not under contract is point guard Danielle Robinson, who said she wants to return. There should be a new collective bargaining agreement in place by the time free agency starts in January. It could be a deal that eliminates the Core Player designation, which could put more high-quality free agents on the market. The Lynx will have the money to move in a market like that.
“We’re open to change, that’s the best ways to say it,” Reeve said. “Free agency is going to be the most interesting for all of us, for every team. We’re looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”
But Reeve — whose contract also expires, though her staying on appears to be a formality — is certain the team is in a good place. If last season felt like the end of the trail for a dynasty, this year it feels like the Lynx have embarked on a new path. Indeed, one of the biggest things Reeve said she learned?
“I should have pushed them more,” she said. “I accepted things I might not have accepted in the past. I could have accelerated the growth process by not taking the step back that I took because I was really trying to learn about the team.”
Collier said she will play in China this winter, focusing on improving her shot. Dantas will play in South Korea, working on her rebounding, outside shooting and one-on-one post moves. Fowles will not be playing overseas but will be with Team USA. Odyssey Sims will not play overseas while Robinson will play in Poland.