It’s been more than two weeks since the Lynx’s 2020 season ended in a loss to Seattle in the WNBA semifinals.
Since then coach Cheryl Reeve has done her exit interviews, returned home from the league’s Florida-based bubble and watched a whole lot of film.
So, when asked what the team needed to add for the 2021 season, she answered quickly: Defense in general and defensive rebounding specifically.
“So here’s the question,” Reeve said. “Do I have to change anything to become a better defensive team?”
Virtually everyone who played a significant role in the Lynx’s fourth-place finish this season is either under contract for next season or under team control.
That list includes center Sylvia Fowles; forwards Napheesa Collier, Damiris Dantas, Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan, Jessica Shepard and Karima Christmas-Kelly; and guards Odyssey Sims, Crystal Dangerfield, Rachel Banham and Lexie Brown. The Lynx have negotiating rights with Bridget Carleton, Italian Cecilia Zandalasini and center Temi Fagbenle.
That’s a full roster right there.
So the Lynx head into the offseason not feeling the pressure to make a big move. But with Collier, Dangerfield, Herbert-Harrigan and Shepard on their rookie deals, the Lynx are in position financially to make a significant move when free agency begins in early 2021.
“This is a good year for us,” Reeve said. “We’re in control.”
The Lynx will have to improve to keep pace with a league that — with several star players expected to return — might be the deepest in its history next season.
“We have a lot to figure out,” Reeve said. “What does our team need? How much do we need to change? We need to get healthy, and I have to figure out what this team’s identity on defense is going to be.”
Fowles — whose calf injury held her out of the final 13 regular-season games and all but one playoff game — figures to be healthy. Ditto for Shepard, who should be ready to play overseas this winter after fully recovering from ACL surgery. Sims will be a year removed from having given birth.
But there are some questions Reeve will have to answer:
• How to insert Fowles back into the lineup. Without her over the final 13 games, the Lynx spread the floor and started shooting three-pointers as often and as well as almost any team in the league.
The result was an offensive rating of 111.3 in those games that was easily the best in the league. There is no question Fowles immediately will make the Lynx better on defense and rebounding. But the key is getting improvement on that end without sacrificing pace and spacing on offense.
To be fair, Fowles was playing early in the season with a lineup far different from the one the Lynx finished with. Shenise Johnson and Brown were the starting guards, with Dangerfield not having hit her rookie of the year stride and Sims not yet with the team.
“We have to make sure we can figure out a path to have that [offensive success] with Syl,” Reeve said. Part of that will be with schemes, Reeve said. And part of that will be persuading her players not to defer too much to Fowles when she’s on the court.
• The Lynx will be a deeper team with Fowles healthy and Shepard back. But some personnel decisions are pending. Space on the roster will be needed if Zandalasini returns next season; if the Lynx get a viable player in the first round of the draft; if the team lands a significant player in free agency; or if Maya Moore decides to return.
Christmas-Kelly’s season-ending Achilles injury puts her future with the team in question. It would appear Reeve would be willing to move other assets under team control in trades, perhaps for future draft picks.
“You are always looking to improve your roster, but it’s nice we’re not at a place where we feel we have to do something,” Reeve said. “We feel we’re a pretty good team. I like our roster. I don’t think we’ll be an easy team to beat.”