Word started coming out of North Carolina in January.
Tanisha Wright was working out. She was feeling good and might be ready to return to the WNBA.
That’s all it took.
Wright is one of the best defensive players of her generation. So perhaps what the Lynx did to acquire her should be called a full-court press. Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve flew to Charlotte — where Wright remains an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte — for a face-to-face meeting. Reeve brought a video of the team’s practice facility. And then owner Glen Taylor picked up the phone and called Wright. If you want to come back to the WNBA, he said, come here.
So, for the first time since the end of the 2016 WNBA season, Wright is in uniform, this time for the Lynx. She’s a 5-11 guard who has made 11 WNBA All-Defensive teams in her 12-year career, giving Reeve the best perimeter defender she’s ever had.
“I wanted to be somewhere where I felt I fit well with the personality of the team,” Wright said. “The program, the organization. And I wanted to go to a team that needed me. That was really important to me. Not just to have me here, but to use me on the court.”
Although Wright has started 283 of 393 career games, she is now part of a defensive-intensive backup backcourt that also includes Danielle Robinson.
But Wright’s role will stretch beyond the 16.3 minutes per game Jia Perkins played in that role last year.
Wright gives the Lynx much of what Alana Beard — last season’s WNBA Defensive Player of the Year — gives the Los Angeles Sparks, a gritty defender who can match up with either guard position or the small forward. A player Reeve can put on the other team’s best scorer. Somebody gets hot? Put Wright on her. This is a luxury Reeve hasn’t always had.
“That’s the closest analogy you can get,” Reeve said of comparing Wright to Beard. “Alana is very difficult to play against. She makes everything difficult, every cut, every pass. Tanisha is the same way. She doesn’t let you get to where you want to go on the court. This is a veteran we thought was a must-have for our offseason. Even if Renee [Montgomery, who signed with Atlanta] came back. Tanisha gives us our best chance to win this year.”
And the Lynx give Wright a very good chance to win her second WNBA title; she was on a starting backcourt with Sue Bird in Seattle, which won the title in 2010, the year before the Lynx began their run.
For Wright, 34, it’s just good to be back. She left the game in 2016 more because of mental fatigue than any physical problems.
“I needed a mental break from it,” she said. “To walk away from it, try something else. I didn’t step away because I felt I couldn’t do it anymore.”
So after finishing her second season with the New York Liberty in 2016, Wright didn’t play overseas. She spent the summer of 2017 visiting family and friends. Then she got the assistant job with UNC-Charlotte last fall.
It was while coaching that the urge to play returned. “I finally missed it,” Wright said. “Seeing my girls go every day, compete?”
So she started working out, and it went well. Around the turn of the new year she started getting word out she’d like to play again.
The Lynx pounced. Wright had played overseas with Lindsay Whalen — both of them are now juggling playing and coaching jobs — and they were friends. That was a start. Then Reeve went all-in.
Bottom line? The Lynx have added a versatile player who gives Reeve options. For example, Reeve is planning on using a number of sets that include Wright at the two with Seimone Augustus sliding to small forward and Maya Moore to power forward.
A career 7.7-point scorer, Wright doesn’t make a huge offensive impact, but she is efficient on that end. Her defense — coupled with the Lynx’s depth in scoring — allows Reeve to play her in any situation.
“I’m excited there was interest in me joining the team,” she said. “I played against ’em enough in my years that I feel they know what I am as a player. They know exactly what they’re getting. No surprises.”