The Minnesota Lynx are about to embark on their most important — and, perhaps, the busiest — offseason in more than a decade.
This is both by necessity and desire. Center Sylvia Fowles, the last vestige of the championship era, retired. The Lynx have only five players under contract for the 2023 season. And then there is President of Basketball Operations and coach Cheryl Reeve's desire to build a team around Napheesa Collier and build a team that will work hard.
So we're looking at both a roster redo and, perhaps, a culture change.
A day after the 2022 season ended with a loss to Connecticut that kept the Lynx out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010, Reeve made a promise during her season-wrapup news conference. She talked about a team that didn't work as hard as it might, wasn't as connected as it should be. "We will be a different team next year,'' she said. "For sure. Guaranteed."
Saturday is when WNBA teams can begin to negotiate with unrestricted and restricted free agents. Reeve is in Europe at the moment, doing just that with players who are on overseas teams.
Let the work begin.
"After Syl's last season, the way things turned out on the court, we see this as an opportunity," Reeve said.
The Lynx enter free agency almost $540,000 under the 2023 salary cap of $1,420,500. That gives them some room. There might be more if a player or two currently under contract leaves, and that's a possibility. Collier, Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa and Jessica Shepard are under contract. Achonwa is expecting in late April, and her availability for the season, which begins May 19, is in question.
Unlike last year, the league now has a maternity exception to the salary cap that allows for a team to add a player at the veteran or rookie minimum if a player cannot play; the team did not have this option last season with Collier.
The goal is to build around Collier, which means a team less chained to a traditional in-the-post center.
"I want her to be able to play in her natural state," Reeve said. "Certainly she's going to improve her three-point shooting, she's talked about wanting to play off the bounce. But Phee is really good when she gets into the paint, finishing. Like, next-level good. So I want to make sure she has the space to do that."
The Lynx enter free agency with Plans A and B. Plan A means pursuing the cream of a very good crop of free agents. That means they will try for Breanna Stewart, certainly. Word around the league is that Stewart and point guard Courtney Vandersloot would like to play together; there is speculation around the league they could land back in Seattle or on a super team with Jonquel Jones in New York.
ESPN reported Friday that Stewart will meet with the Lynx, Washington Mystics, Seattle and New York in Istanbul, where she is playing during the winter.
So the Lynx will make their push.
If that doesn't work out, Plan B: "Then you find yourself in a place where you want to be a little more patient, and you look at a process.''
The Lynx are likely interested in bringing back a few of their own free agents, including Rachel Banham and Bridget Carleton. And, perhaps, Damiris Dantas or Moriah Jefferson, depending on how free agency goes. But player health is a huge factor this year. Trying to help Fowles in her final season, Reeve signed Layshia Clarendon and Angel McCoughtry last year, only to have both be unable to play. Jefferson and Dantas have health histories to consider.
The Lynx have the second and 12th picks in the draft, and that high pick, if not traded, will likely make the team.
If the Lynx go to Plan B, there are free agents the team might consider.
Azura Stevens is a 6-6 stretch center who played the last three seasons in Chicago; her ability to hit the three would create space for Collier. Among guards who might draw interest are unrestricted free agent Brittney Sykes and restricted free agents Natisha Hiedeman (Connecticut) and Marina Mabrey (Dallas).
One way or another, the Lynx are going to look a lot different.
"The priority is Phee," Reeve said. "In terms of bring out the best in her."