Sylvia Fowles was at the Minnesota Lynx offices late last week. It was just a quick trip up to see some of the young players, tell head coach Cheryl Reeve she was definitely not ready to get into coaching — yet — and just touch base before happily returning to her post-WNBA life in Florida.
The Lynx open 2023 training camp Sunday. It is the first since 2015 that won't include Fowles, the future Hall of Fame center, who retired after last season. In many ways it is the first camp in a while that will have the feeling of a team looking to the future rather than one trying to maintain its past.
"I'm really looking forward to this camp,'' Reeve said. "There is a new opportunity, maybe, with this team. We're being really open-minded about roles, who's involved in this. And certainly Phee is going to be at the center of all this.''
Phee would be Napheesa Collier, who missed most of last season after giving birth, who rushed back in order to play a handful of games with her friend Fowles, who was a part of a team that finished outside the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Fowles is gone, but Collier, the Olympian, is back, fit, ready, and about to be the focal point of an offense that will cater to her need for space to operate inside. What the team looks like around her — who starts, who gets minutes, roles, rotations — is legitimately up in the air.
"We know a few who will be on the team,'' Reeve said. "But what direction it goes will be determined by camp, by the draftees or the camp invitees. That's the vibe. And I think people will feel good about getting that chance to legitimately say, 'I was able to compete for that job.'"
'A hungrier group'
Frankly, it wasn't that way, certainly last year. With Fowles about to enter her final season, Reeve worked hard to build a veteran team around her that would give Fowles a legitimate shot at a playoff run.
Everyone saw how that worked out. As camp came to a close it became clear that guard Layshia Clarendon and forward Angel McCoughtry were not healthy enough to play.
And then the Lynx got off to a 3-13 start.
It was a long year for Reeve, who felt some players never bought into the team concept. At her season-ending news conference, Reeve vowed that would change. She didn't know how many victories her 2023 team would get, but the 2023 Lynx would play for each other.
Those issues have been addressed, Reeve said. Many of the players coming back were bothered by the way last summer went and want change.
"You will have a hungrier group,'' Reeve promised.
Camp will open with 15 players. At first that number won't include Nikolina Milić and Bridget Carleton, who are still playing overseas, and Kayla McBride, who will miss the first few days of camp resting after her European season ended. Center Natalie Achonwa, about to become a mother, won't be there either.
The Lynx enter camp with five players carrying guaranteed contracts in McBride, Aerial Powers, free-agent signee Tiffany Mitchell, Carleton and Achonwa.
There is an incoming four-player draft class that includes Diamond Miller (second overall pick), Dorka Juhasz (16th), Brea Beal (24th) and Taylor Soule (28th).
The 15 who will take the floor will be long and athletic, with a history of competitive play. That said, there is a legitimate concern about depth at the point guard position (Lindsay Allen and who else?).
When the final roster is announced before the May 19 opener, expect some surprises.
"Those two preseason games will be very, very important,'' Reeve said.
New lineup questions
And expect decisions to be made with the future in mind. The offense will be retooled to take advantage of Collier. Expect it to be similar to the one the Lynx used in the WNBA COVID-19 bubble during the 2020 season, which Fowles missed much of because of a calf injury, when the Lynx finished fourth in the WNBA standings and third in offensive rating.
But how will the defense look? And who get the most run? Collier is the team's future. And it's safe to assume the Lynx didn't take Miller second overall to have her sit on the bench.
Heading into camp, Reeve said her priorities included getting to know the new players, figuring out the team's identity, especially on the defensive end, and figuring out how playing time will be doled out.
"Last season is in the past,'' Reeve said. "We're turning our attention to the team we want to be.''