A team already in transition, the Lynx now find themselves having to replace one of the best players in league history.
At least for one season.
In an article for the Players Tribune, Maya Moore announced she would sit out the 2019 WNBA season, citing her faith and goals she wants to accomplish, an agenda that would be difficult to meet were she playing.
“The success that I’ve been a part of in basketball truly blows my mind every time I think about it. But the main way I measure success in life is something I don’t often get to emphasize explicitly through pro ball,” Moore, 29, said in the Players Tribune story, which went live Tuesday. “I measure success by asking, ‘Am I living out my purpose?’ I learned a long time ago that my purpose is to know Jesus and to make Him known.”
Moore could not be reached for further comment.
Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx general manager and coach aware of Moore’s desire to take a sabbatical for some time, wished Moore the best.
“What this is all about for us now, as a franchise, as a Lynx family, we need to give her the support she needs,” Reeve said. “That’s all we can do for her. There have been times in all of our lives when we felt the pull toward something. And Maya had the courage to act on it. At this point we’ll cheer her on and provide the love and support we always have.”
Moore’s very public announcement comes on the heels of her signing a multiyear deal with the Lynx, the team she joined as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. And if these two events appear contradictory at first, they are not.
When reports spread weeks ago about the possibility of Moore not playing this season, many jumped the conclusion that it was due to Moore being unhappy with the Lynx and wanting to force herself out of Minnesota.
In fact, Moore’s relationship with the team remains strong. She just felt the need to take time for other facets of her life. The contract leaves the door open for Moore to return to the Lynx in 2020 and beyond.
“I will certainly miss the day-to-day relationships with my teammates and basketball family this season, but my no for the 2019 pro season allows me to say yes to my family and faith family like I never have before,” Moore wrote. “I’m sure this year will be hard in ways that I don’t even know yet, but it will also be rewarding in ways I’ve yet to see, too.”
That said, Moore’s decision changes dramatically the makeup of the Lynx, at least for now.
Guard Lindsay Whalen has retired, moving to coach the Gophers. And Reeve is still awaiting a final decision on whether power forward Rebekkah Brunson will return this season. But there is a very good chance the Lynx will be without three starters from the team that won titles in 2015 and 2017.
Reeve said she will hope for Moore’s return, while working hard on getting the team ready to play without her this summer.
“Maya is one of the best players to play in the WNBA,” she said. “And her absence will be felt.”
Said Whalen, Moore’s teammate with the Lynx from 2011 through last year: “When Maya came in in 2011, that’s when things started for us. People know how great she is on the court. But we became family.
“She’s a better teammate and person than she is a player. So I know whatever she touches is going to be great. Whatever she’s able to do, she’ll be successful at it.’’
Of the core group that made the Lynx a perennial championship contender and winner, center Sylvia Fowles is back. So is Seimone Augustus, who re-signed with the team Saturday. The team has signed Atlanta restricted free agent Damiris Dantas to an offer sheet they are hoping Atlanta does not match.
The Lynx also signed free agent Karima Christmas-Kelly, a high-energy, defensive-minded forward, who will likely start in Moore’s place. Danielle Robinson, coming back from surgery to repair an injured ankle that ended her 2018 season, will be back at point guard and Fowles, who played half of last season with a left elbow injury, will be back and healthy.
At this point Alexis Jones — a player the Lynx very much need to take a big leap — is Robinson’s backup on the point and veteran Tanisha Wright is Augustus’s backup at shooting guard.
Cecilia Zandalasini is Christmas-Kelly’s backup at small forward while Temi Fagbenle and, presumably, Dantas are the backups in the post.
At least for now. Reeve wouldn’t rule out further dealing in the free agency market; the Lynx have room and money to spend. Moore will spend the 2019 season on a suspended list, freeing up a maximum salary. The team also has the sixth overall pick in the April draft.
In any event, the Lynx will look different in their May 25 opener with Chicago, though Reeve — whose team won titles in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 — wouldn’t call it a rebuild, with veterans such as Augustus, Fowles and Robinson part of the starting group.
“But we certainly going through a transition,” Reeve said. “The mind-set is to remain competitive in what we’re doing.”
This could all be complicated by the fact that both Zandalasini (Italy) and Fagbenle (Great Britain) could miss the early part of the season playing for their countries in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Europe in June.
To fans who watched her play last season, it appeared the game had become a bit of a grind for Moore, certainly more so than it had been in the past. She averaged 18.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists – numbers not far off her career averages of 18.4, 5.9 and 3.3.
But her shooting percentage of .423 was the second-lowest of her career and her .365 percentage on three-pointers was her lowest in three seasons.
She was still an All-Star — where she won the game’s MVP award for the third time on her home floor at Target Center. But the Lynx, champions the year before, slumped to an 18-16 record and the team was eliminated by Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, in eight years with the Lynx, Minnesota won four titles and was a combined 200-72.
Among the best women’s players in history, Moore’s legacy of success and winning is amazing.
She won two NCAA titles at Connecticut, two Olympic gold medals, two world championships, two EuroLeague titles, three titles while playing in China and four WNBA titles.
Her arrival as the top pick in the 2011 draft was the addition that resulted in critical mass for the Lynx, who won the first of four WNBA titles that fall.
Moore was WNBA finals MVP in 2013, league MVP in 2014, an All-Star every time there was a game (five times) and three times won the MVP at the All-Star Game. She was rookie of the year in 2011, named a member of the league’s top 20 players at the WNBA’s 20th anniversary and led the league in scoring in 2014.
At the same time Moore, almost always willing to weigh in on the issues of the day, has taken an interest in the criminal justice system, particularly where it relates to wrongful imprisonment. Moore is also an advocate of the End it Movement, which is trying to end modern slavery.