The practice right after the Lynx fell to 0-6 to start the 2023 season was understandably no fun at all, especially with players having to answer to four-time WNBA champion coach Cheryl Reeve. Yikes.
"Still finding joy in the moment, it's about the people that you're with," veteran guard Kayla McBride said on the team's chemistry.
Embracing the grind to improve together helped them turn the season around. And early adversity turned into a run to the playoffs that ended on the verge of an upset with a 90-75 loss to Connecticut on Wednesday at Target Center.
"We have a great foundation," All-Star forward Napheesa Collier said. "The rebuilding phase that people are talking about is going to be way shorter than was anticipated."
What comes next for the franchise is likely based on how much key returning players improve this offseason overseas.
How much better can the tandem of Collier and McBride become next year? How will rookie forwards Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász develop playing away from the Lynx for the first time?
McBride and Collier, one of the WNBA's top tandems, are expected to team up again for Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Super League, McBride revealed Thursday.
"I loved the evolution of Phee and K-Mac as a duo," Reeve said. "One of my favorite parts of the season was the synergy that those two had."
After missing most of the 2022 season to have her first child, Collier was named an All-Star for the fourth time, but she also became the Lynx's lone captain while averaging a career-high 21.5 points per game, including 23.7 in the playoffs.
"The will I had to want to be great this season was really high," Collier said. "The highest it's ever been."
But Collier said a switch flipped for the Lynx in their first victory of the season June 3 at Washington. McBride led the team in scoring with 24 points in that 80-78 victory, starting a stretch of winning nine of the next 12 games.
Collier heated up with four 30-point games in an nine-game span this summer, but she hit a wall after carrying such a heavy load. McBride then came up big with 45 points combined in back-to-back road wins at New York and Connecticut in late July. They combined for 54 points, including a season-high 28 points from McBride, in the 82-75 win vs. Connecticut in Game 2 to extend the opening round playoff matchup.
"We built such a camaraderie and respect for one another that it doesn't matter who is Batman and Robin," McBride said. "We just have a lot of love for each other's game and kind of coexist."
The Lynx considered themselves overachievers but that's also because of injuries.
Former starting center Jessica Shepard missed 19 games this season because of a sprained ankle, but she has recovered and will play in Italy. The Lynx had to adjust their lineup with Shepard and point guard Lindsay Allen (thumb) out for several weeks to end the season.
Less depth meant Miller and Juhász were forced into even bigger roles. They were the first two WNBA rookies to start together in the playoffs since 2008. And now they're looking forward to building on that experience going into next season.
Juhász surprised herself this year by going from a second-round pick to starting 22 games. Her four consecutive double-figure rebounding games to end the regular season, included a 12-point, 16-board effort in a critical overtime win vs. Atlanta on Sept. 1.
"I'm excited to have a different feel of basketball," said Juhász, who will play in Italy. "Being a little more dominant and kind of getting that confidence back offensively. Hoping to bring that back to Minnesota."
With six players signed going into next season (including guard Tiffany Mitchell), maybe the most intriguing story line for the Lynx will be Miller's progression into a possible star after she plays in Hungary.
"This rookie year has been a lot of fun," Miller said. "I learned so much about myself … I did some really good things, but I think there's room for improvement."