All this talk of age is starting to get old.
You could see that recently when, having heard the age question one too many times, Lynx star Seimone Augustus simply rolled her eyes. “Since I hit the age of 30, everybody has been like, ‘Oh, retirement, retirement,’ ” she said. “OK, you know, we understand. We just don’t know how long.”
On Friday, the Lynx — whose three-year run of reaching the WNBA Finals was cut short last year because of injuries, surgeries and the Phoenix Mercury — will open the 2015 season against a young, talented Tulsa team.
The Lynx begin their season with the expectation of a third title in five seasons and the desire to wipe away the frustrations of 2014. Surgery kept forward Rebekkah Brunson out of all but 11 regular-season games. Knee soreness dogged Augustus for much of the summer. Knee surgeries to the team’s top backups, guard Monica Wright and forward Devereaux Peters, had them scrambling from the start.
But there is also knowledge that the core group of Augustus (now 31), Brunson (33), guard Lindsay Whalen (33) and reigning MVP Maya Moore (25) won’t be together forever. Which is why, with nearly everyone healthy this spring, the sense of urgency is palpable in the team’s shiny new practice facility.
“Absolutely,” Whalen said. “Because nothing is given. Nothing is going to last forever. It is what it is. So, we’re in this situation, now. Every year, when we get back together, when everybody is feeling good, it’s like, ‘Yeah, all right, let’s do it. Let’s give this another go.’ ”
If there is one truth to the WNBA — whose best players regularly play nearly year-round — it is that the only thing as important to winning as talent is health. During its three-year run to the finals — which included titles in 2011 and 2013 — the team remained essentially healthy. Last year, while the Lynx were dealing with one injury after another, the Mercury didn’t lose a single game to injury.
This year, the Western Conference looks wide open. Tulsa and Seattle — both infused with talented high draft picks — will be expected to be teams on the rise. But they are still learning how to consistently win.
In Phoenix, star Diana Taurasi has been paid by her European team not to play this summer, and All-Star center Brittney Griner will serve a seven-game suspension to start the season. In Los Angeles, star Candace Parker is sitting out at least the start of the season to get healthy, not indicating when she will return.
Newly acquired Lynx center Asjha Jones will miss some time while getting healthy, at least the first two weeks of the season. But the Lynx’s core group is healthy and ready to go, and the uncertainty within the conference make the Lynx the favorite.
“It could be three years, five, who knows?” Augustus said of their remaining time together. “We have goals we want to accomplish before we take our shoes off and hang them up on our trophy cases.”
Ten years from now, Moore, who turns 26 next Thursday, will likely still be playing. Not so for her fellow Lynx stars; she recently joked about how she expects Augustus and Whalen to be watching her from courtside season tickets in the future.
“I expect them to be there,” Moore said. “And to be able to say we squeezed the life out of our time together.”
That’s important. Lynx assistant Shelley Patterson was director of basketball operations for the Houston Comets in 1999, the year the team won its third of four consecutive league titles. The WNBA’s first dynasty, the Comets were led by the big three of Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson, a group that won it all on the court, but weren’t so close off it. Patterson said what makes the Lynx’s Big Three so special is that their closeness continues off the court.
“You start to see the end of the tunnel, the other side of the rainbow,” Patterson said. “You start to wonder, ‘What else do we have left? What else can we do as a group here?’ They want to make it special. They want to win. But if you call it a sense of urgency, it can bring you down. They should look over and say, ‘I got Whalen, still have Seimone, Maya on the wing and Rebekkah rebounding.’ Right there it should make you feel good.”
Whalen is still the consummate point guard. Augustus remains able to create her own shot when needed. Brunson looks and feels better than she has, perhaps in years.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve bristles when it’s suggested that 32, 33 is old. But: “There are no guarantees,” she said. “So these seasons when we are healthy, and all together? We want to capitalize on that.”
The Lynx will get reinforcements during the season. Guard Anna Cruz, a tenacious defender, comes over from Spain at the end of the month and Reeve can’t wait to add her to the backcourt. Until Jones returns, second-year player Damiris Dantis will carry the load at center, and the Lynx expect a big jump in her play.
Peters and Wright are expected to be big contributors off the bench. If the preseason was any indication, forward Tricia Liston, in her second season, appears ready to stretch defenses with her three-point shooting.
But it’s all going to come down to Moore, Whalen, Augustus and Brunson, four players who went to the league’s All-Star Game together in 2013.
Reeve watched Houston play during the Comets’ title run and was an assistant in Detroit during the Shock’s regular appearances in the finals. Not surprisingly, she considers the current Lynx core as the best in league history.
Partly, at least, because of the incredible drive to succeed she sees in her players.
“I think you see that when we play,” Moore said. “We play knowing this isn’t going to last forever. We want to make sure there are no regrets.”