When the negotiation period for WNBA free agency opens Saturday, do not expect the Lynx to be as active as they were last year.
"Relatively speaking, the level of aggression will not be the same,'' Cheryl Reeve said.
Reeve is the general manager and coach of the Lynx, who struck hard a year ago, signing starters Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers and center Natalie Achonwa to deals.
That's not to say there aren't challenges this year. There are. It's just that many of them are in-house.
The Lynx will open free agency — official signings can't be made until Feb. 1 — with $432,198 in cap room. They have nine players under contract, a number that includes the fact Bridget Carleton has signed her qualifying offer. Under contract are McBride, Powers, Achonwa and Damiris Dantas, whose deals are all guaranteed; and Carleton, Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, Rennia Davis and Jessica Shepard.
Center Sylvia Fowles and guards Layshia Clarendon and Rachel Banham are unrestricted free agents.
Free agency will begin with some big challenges:
- Getting a final decision from Fowles on her immediate future;
- Devising a plan to compete in 2022 without Collier, who is pregnant and likely to miss most, if not all, of the season;
- Solidifying the point guard position, which could be done by re-signing Clarendon.
Fowles showed no signs of slowing down in 2021, her 14th season. She was named an All-Star for the seventh time and named defensive player of the year for the fourth time. It is with Fowles that free agency starts for the Lynx. Or, more accurately, it is with Fowles' decision on whether to continue playing or retire with the idea of becoming a mother. Reeve said she and Fowles would meet next week and begin the process of arriving at a final decision.
If Fowles returns, it would likely be for at or near a max contract — in the $200,000 range — which would take up much of the team's available cap space. The salary cap for 2022 is $1,379,200.
"It's pretty simple to say that Syl is the primary target for us in free agency,'' Reeve said. "If the primary target is not available, you move onto the next target. There is a plan B. We've discussed a Plan B for a while.''
Achonwa is a capable WNBA center. Not signing Fowles would give the Lynx a good chunk of money to use in free agency.
The Lynx signed Clarendon after starting the 2021 season 0-4. They went 15-5 in the next 20 games, until Clarendon developed a stress reaction in their right leg, and was never fully recovered by season's end. After the season Clarendon said they had found a professional home in Minnesota and hoped to return. The Lynx are interested in having them back. But the Lynx will survey the available free agent point guard class before making a final decision.
Clarendon is a known commodity. But if a blockbuster option became available, the Lynx would consider it, with some cap room possibly found in roster moves.
"Layshia remains someone we find valuable, for sure,'' Reeve said.
As for Collier? The CBA negotiated with the players association and the league guarantees Collier her salary for the upcoming season. But the Lynx get no cap relief for that salary. That means the Lynx are almost certain to carry just 11 players in the 2022 season while looking inward trying to replace Collier's contributions.
One thing Reeve said the Lynx wouldn't do is do anything drastic for 2022 that would hurt the team in 2023, when Collier will be back.
"We don't feel we have one player that can make up for Phee,'' Reeve said. "We do feel like some things that didn't happen last year can happen this year.''
Atop that list is Powers, who emerged from an injury-riddled start to the season finish strong down the stretch.