The end of this Lynx season represented somewhat of an end of an era for the team.
We’ve known for a while that 2018 would be Lindsay Whalen’s last season, and while it sounds like Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus will be returning next year, their roles have changed from when they were Minnesota’s primary stat producers.
Like it or not, there’s change coming down the pipeline for this franchise. It’s been a heck of a run, but all things must come to an end. While the 2018 season didn’t end in a championship as was the goal coming in, the Lynx made quite the effort in the face of a ton of adversity—an effort they can certainly be proud of.
“This was a group, as we gathered again in October of last year, we had certain goals in mind, and defending our title was certainly one of them. We felt like perhaps we had one more run in us, and as we moved through the season some of our challenges became apparent,” said coach Cheryl Reeve. “I think for me at the end of the day as the dust settles, all the dynamics in there, we did the best we could.”
There are many additional challenges that come with success, and though the team was aware of the challenges ahead when they began this season, it’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding of how hard the eighth year of having a target on your back might be, and quite another to actually live it.
“Especially at the completion of the seventh season and our fourth championship, just spending time with our players I knew where they were,” said Reeve. “I knew how hard this has been, success comes with a cost, and I knew what it was taking for us to kind of keep it going, muster it up.”
While the emotional and physical toll of several consecutive championships played a role in the Lynx’s difficult season, they were also a victim of a changing league. Three-point shooting and floor spacing are becoming more and more important, and the speed that the league’s best teams play at is also on the rise. While it was a common theme to blame the Lynx’s troubles this year on their aging core of players, what might have been more at fault was their aging system of play.
The thing is, there were times this year when the Lynx looked every bit like the excellent team that they have been in the past. It’s hard to adopt changes when you’re working with a system that had been as historically successful as the Lynx were.
“I still had a great belief, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been all that realistic. So maybe I wasn’t realistic, but they made me believe,” said Reeve. “That’s what I tell them. At times they make things look easy, and that sets them up for these expectations.”
It’s full speed ahead now for the Lynx as Reeve and her staff work to figure out what they want the team to look like next season. It won’t be an easy task, and it’s one with many different components, but it’s also a challenge Reeve is excited to tackle.
“It’s a little bit invigorating. There’s the GM part which will be a lot of work but then there’s the basketball part that I’m looking forward to,” she said. “Eight years of doing things a certain way was obviously really good, but things are changing, and we’ve got to change with it.”
First and foremost, the Lynx will certainly be keeping an eye on the development of their young players overseas. Cecilia Zandalasini, Alexis Jones and Temi Fagbenle all had their moments this season, but this offseason will be crucial for them as they try to solidify their place on a Lynx squad that will certainly look different next year.
“We said to [our younger players] it’s a two-part deal—if you were good enough you would have played. Period. Especially this year,” said Reeve. “You’ve got to take responsibility for those things and you got to get better. So we gave them some information and we’re going to be monitoring that progress. So that’s really important to us. At this point nobody is safe as we transition, so it’s time for them to step up.”
A second piece of the puzzle will be figuring out how to fit the Lynx’s veterans into a new system. Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles are still capable of playing MVP-level basketball, but the team will need to work with Augustus and Brunson to figure out what role they need to play in the coming season. It’s a two-way street—Reeve wants to figure out a way to make the final years of Augustus and Brunson’s careers look like how they want them to, but she also has to figure out how to best utilize them in the context of the team. The Lynx are due for a change, and their veterans will need to change too.
The final piece is figuring out how to maximize value in the draft and free agency. The Lynx have the sixth, 14th, 18th and 20th selections in the WNBA draft this year. While that’s a nice collection of picks, the players in that range aren’t typically ones that can push a team to a championship.
Expect the Lynx to be active on the phone both in trades and free agency decisions. Nothing will be out of the question. Reeve wants to get back to winning championships, and she knows that what has worked before won’t cut it. However, Lynx fans should avoid interpreting Reeve’s remarks as the Lynx being headed for a fire sale. This is not a rejection of everything that got the team this far, but an understanding that it’s time to reshape the squad.
“Any phone call that comes to talk about anybody you listen to it,” said Reeve. “Would it take a whole lot to move a player or two? Absolutely. But at this point we are open to how we have this roster shaped going forward. And that’s not a place we’ve been.”
The most important factor in successful change is having a leadership group that is ready to get behind one another and pull together. The Lynx have that in Reeve and their core group of veterans. This is a group that understands that success tomorrow rarely looks like success yesterday, and they’re ready to change. Whatever the roster or the playbook looks like next summer, that attitude isn’t going away. Bring on the next era of Lynx basketball.