It’s not surprising Cheryl Reeve has looked in many different directions as she plots to push the Lynx ahead.
It was late December when Reeve, while signing a contract extension, had the title of general manager added to her head coaching position. In some ways, this was not a huge change; Reeve always had run the point when it came to finding ways to construct the roster, identifying trade and free agent targets and preparing for the draft.
One of those ways was implemented Tuesday when the Lynx traded their first-round draft pick to Phoenix for former All-Star point guard Danielle Robinson.
In the middle of one of the most important offseasons since she came here in 2010, Reeve — always one to look for new methods — has pushed to expand the way the team prepares, both for April’s draft and for the upcoming season when the Lynx will try to win their fifth WNBA title since 2011 and try to win consecutive crowns for the first time.
“I’m expanding the scope of how we evaluate,” said Reeve, who was at the SEC tournament over the weekend.
To that end, Reeve has spent weeks consulting. She talked to local team leaders — Vikings GM Rick Spielman, for example, as well as Thad Levine and Derek Falvey with the Twins. She has talked with contacts with USA Basketball and mandated a deeper dive into analytics.
“It’s everything,” Reeve said. “Culture. The selection process. What can we do better? What can we do more of? I have a thirst for the analytics piece of it. How we can make better decisions.”
All of that is very important right now.
Reeve and assistants Shelley Patterson, James Wade and Walt Hopkins have spent the college season preparing for the upcoming draft. The Robinson trade cost the Lynx their first-round pick this year but they will get Mercury’s second-round pick in 2019.
The big move was part of the process that figures to serve the Lynx well going forward.
Rebuilding the bench
The turnover on the Lynx roster has been significant since the Lynx beat Los Angeles in Game 5 of the Finals at Williams Arena Oct. 4.
The starting five of Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus returns.
But the team’s four top bench players from last season are gone. Guard Jia Perkins and forward Plenette Pierson retired. Point guard Renee Montgomery, a huge part of two league titles, signed as a free agent with Atlanta. Forward Natasha Howard was traded to Seattle for a second-round draft pick and the right to switch first-round picks with Seattle in 2019.
That is a huge void, which the Lynx hope will be partly filled by Robinson, especially this season when bench play becomes more important. The WNBA has condensed the season to be finished before the FIBA World Cup, which begins Sept. 22.
Last season the Lynx played 34 games in 114 days. This year they will play 34 games in 90 days. This is big for a team that is getting older. When this season starts in May, Whalen and Brunson will be 36, Augustus 34 and Fowles 32.
“The pace of the season will be more frenetic,” Reeve said. “Games three, four times a week. Less recovery time. We have only one five-day break. We’re going to be challenged. How do the older players come back, what do they look like? What are we ready for? We’ve been spending a lot of time on this.”
Bottom line is the starters will need more rest and the bench will play more. And so that bench needs to be remade, a process that is ongoing even with Robinson.
Returning reserves — guard Alexis Jones, forward Cecelia Zandalasini and center Temi Fagbenle — played very little last year, combining to total 4.5 points per game.
However, Jones, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, has shown flashes of ability and didn’t flinch when getting significant playing time during the WNBA Finals.
Zandalasini, the young Italian, is athletic and has a great shot. Reeve expects both to take steps this season, especially Zandalasini as she adjusts to the physical WNBA. The hope is Fagbenle will have improved enough to give Fowles adequate rest.
But the Lynx need proven, veteran players, because Reeve is not looking down the road. They signed veteran power forward Lynetta Kizer as a free agent, giving them a big off the bench.
The addition of Robinson addresses the backup point guard. Zandalasini could be counted on to step up as a backup small forward. And they could find additional help late in the draft.
“Being frank, it’s about winning now,” she said. “We owe it to our veterans to do that.”