A year ago, Napheesa Collier was still trying to recover. Now she is trying to refine.
Collier, the star forward for the Lynx, gave birth to daughter Mila prior to the 2023 season. She worked like crazy to get back for the final handful of regular-season games, primarily so she could get on the court, one last time, with retiring center Sylvia Fowles.
After that? Months of grueling rehab — some of the hardest work she has ever done — trying to get her body back.
Not this year.
"I'm excited to come from a spot where I'm not having to rehab so aggressively," Collier said by phone from New Jersey. She is back from an 18-day stint playing for Fenerbahçe, the Turkey-based women's basketball powerhouse. Whether she will return there or play somewhere else overseas? She hasn't decided yet. But this much she's sure of:
"Now I'm coming from a position where I can build on what I have," she said. "Focus on getting better rather than just getting healthy."
She got healthy last year. Collier led the Lynx back into the WNBA playoffs after a year out of them. The numbers were impressive: She finished fourth in the league in scoring (24.7), seventh in rebounding (8.5), ninth in steals (1.6). Her 11.7 points per game in the paint was second. She made her third All-Star Game and then had the honor of being the Lynx's 12th All-WNBA first-team selection, their first since Fowles and Maya Moore in 2017.
But none of that is what she's most proud of.
"It was the way I approached the game mentally," Collier said. "I knew I'd have a big role this year. I feel I embraced that, took it on my shoulders, unlocked a new level for myself as a player."
Now she wants more.
And she's in a position, physically, to do it. Collier will always live large in the paint, but she wants to get better from long-range to open that up more. She wants to work on her shot on the move, her ball-handling.
And she wants to win. The Lynx will have some wiggle room financially, with only six players currently under contract for next season: Collier and Kayla McBride, who finished 1-2 in scoring; Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász, who were both named to the all-rookie team; Tiffany Mitchell, and Jessica Shepard.
The Lynx will likely look to re-sign some of their own free agents, but there will also be room to look at free agency. And Collier wants to be a big part of it. She wants to be a part of the recruiting process, as she was last year. She wants to be a part of the big phone calls. "I feel like this is my team now," Collier said. "I want to be as involved as possible."
Collier loved how resilient the 2023 Lynx were to rebound from an 0-6 start to the season to make the playoffs; there was definitely a different feel than 2022 when, she said, "It felt like we were giving up at times."
She would like to see improved depth at point guard, maybe a true big for a league that still is filled with power in the post.
But for now Collier is home with Mila, who is now 16 months old. The nearly three weeks spent with Fenerbahçe were the longest the two had ever been separated. If she goes back overseas, husband Alex Bazzell will come, too.
But this might be the final time she has to make such a decision. The Unrivaled League , spearheaded by Collier and WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, is still fundraising and hoping for a launch a year from now. The league would run from January to March and consist of 30 top players on six teams, playing games of three-on-three and one-on-one in Miami. The goal is to give women's players the option of making offseason money without having to leave the country.