Tuesday night, after the Lynx season had ended in a first-round playoff loss to Los Angeles, after an era had ended with Lindsay Whalen’s retirement, Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve took the red eye flight back to Minneapolis.
By Wednesday afternoon, Reeve was still trying to put the season in perspective, getting ready for exit interviews, which will come in a few days. Until those interviews are done, she won’t know exactly what all of her players are thinking.
But she knows this: Things are going to be different.
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“The seven-year run we’ve had was unprecedented,” Reeve said. “When Lindsay and I first got together [in 2010], we talked about how a 20-win season was the marker of a good year. In our years together, we won 25 or more six times. That’s just crazy.”
Not this season. The Lynx won 18 games and had to play a single-elimination playoff game for the first time.
“Of course, it’s not sustainable,” Reeve said. “It was historic. And so, by virtue of that, and Lindsay Whalen being the point guard through it, it was like having a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning. This is going to be different going forward.”
Just how much remains to be seen. There are big questions needing answers before Reeve begins the process of either retooling or rebuilding her team.
• Will Rebekkah Brunson, who will be 37 in December, want to return for another season? She and her wife are expecting a baby. She is getting a business off the ground. Does she want to go through the grind again?
• Is Seimone Augustus, who turns 35 in April, ready to begin an all-out war against Father Time, to take her preparation and commitment to a new level? Augustus struggled at times this season, and wasn’t on the floor down the stretch of Tuesday’s loss in L.A.
Reeve needs to know all of this.
“When you end a season, I’ve learned, you don’t expect anything,” she said. “Not until you sit down with everybody. Then you can say this is what we do have.”
Issues are clear
What Reeve does know is that the Lynx need to get better — and more diverse — on offense. The Lynx need more players who can score, including hitting three-pointers. And they need a bench that is more reliable, less mercurial. There is no question they missed Renee Montgomery (who signed with Atlanta to be closer to family) and Natasha Howard (who wanted a max contract the Lynx couldn’t afford and signed with Seattle).
The Lynx knew Whalen’s numbers would be down this year, but the coaching staff underestimated the extent to which her scoring would fall off. Her ability to get to the rim over the years changed the dynamic of the Lynx offense, taking pressure off center Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore.
“This year we didn’t spread the floor enough for Syl,” said Reeve, who said she was actually surprised how well Fowles played considering how other teams could defend her. Reeve remembers walking out of the arena in Rochester, after Washington had beat Fowles up in a preseason game and telling her, “Get ready, this is what it’s going to be.”
Moore, meanwhile, had one of her more difficult seasons, with her efficiency well down from previous seasons. There is no question part of it was because of the Lynx getting less offensively from Whalen, Brunson and Augustus. Teams were able to do things defensively this season that, in past years, the Lynx would have exploited.
But there was, perhaps, more at work here. Reeve is convinced that a career’s worth of high expectations and the pressures of being the go-to person on the court and off has taken a toll on Moore, one exacerbated by all the time she has played overseas.
“The grind of being Maya Moore — both physically and mentally — is big,” Reeve said. “There is a toll that comes with expectations.”
And while there might be no easy answer to this, Reeve says Moore has to find a way to turn the switch off for a while and recharge. And it’s also up to Reeve to give the Lynx more offensive options.
There should be opportunities to do that. Temi Fagbenle, Alexis Jones, Tanisha Wright, Danielle Robinson and Fowles are the only players under contract for next season. Reeve liked the strides Fagbenle made and sees an expanded role in her future. Jones’ ability to hit threes will be seen more when she improves defensively. Reeve liked the promise she saw in forward Cecilia Zandalasini, who will return next season.
Whalen’s contract will be off the books. Augustus, Moore and Brunson’s contracts have expired. Even if all three return, there will be room to add under the salary cap, though movement in the WNBA is restricted by the collective bargaining agreement in ways that likely will change with the new deal.
“We’ll have a lot of cap flexibility,” Reeve said. “We will go after free agents. But movement can be difficult. But there will be ways to improve our team. We’re clear on the direction we need. But how to get there is another matter.”