There’s a longtime perception across professional sports: Minnesota is not a free agent destination.
The bitter cold of the Minnesota winter has long been cited as a main deterrent in attracting stars looking to sign with new teams. Given the recent sub-zero temperatures in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, that’s hard to argue.
Cheryl Reeve isn’t buying it.
“I don’t think of those things,” the Minnesota Lynx Head Coach and General Manager said of the narrative. “I just know that we’ve established ourselves as a place that we knew we could be a player in free agency.”
A year ago, during the WNBA’s first offseason of increased free-agent movement thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement, some pundits and fans wondered if that perception applied to the four-time champion Lynx when the franchise didn’t make a splash signing.
“I do recall some criticism,” Reeve looked back on the 2020 free agency period. “I recall some panic in Minnesota circles because the free agency frenzy last year, everybody wanted to get in and be a part of it. All the news, all the breaking news, and everybody wants their team to be making the big splash.”
However, Reeve had other plans in mind. With ample salary cap space and plenty of difference-makers to target, the 2019 WNBA Executive of the Year’s sights were set on the 2021 free-agent class. Reeve squashed the Minnesota sports stereotype with a free-agent haul of three-time All-Star in Kayla McBride, a former WNBA Champion entering her prime in Aerial Powers, and a veteran post presence in Natalie Achonwa.
“There are contracts that we would’ve gotten into [in 2020] had we felt peer-pressured into making moves just to make them that would’ve prohibited us from doing as well as we did in this free agency period,” Reeve frankly stated. “We valued this  free agency class.”
The three-time WNBA Coach of the Year continued: “We definitely had more of a focus on this class, and we knew we had cap space thanks to team friendly deals… We’re fortunate that it all came together the way it did.”
Having the vision of how the Lynx’s 2021 free agent targets would both complement each other and the team’s already existing core set Reeve’s pitch apart from other teams, says Powers.
“When Cheryl told me about all these pieces, it’s just like ‘How can we not win a championship?… Where do I sign?'” Powers told media.
“Free agency was [new] last year, and everybody wanted to be into it — but she’s playing chess, not checkers,” Powers continued. “It’s not always about the first, best thing but longevity. When it comes to the longevity of our team, we can win championships on championships.”
When a coach with four titles in the past decade calls, players pick up. The recruitment of McBride, Powers, and Achonwa included care packages sent overseas, customized Beats By Dre headphones and Xbox controllers, and Lynx gear for the players’ entire families.
“It made me excited right off the bat,” McBride said of Reeve’s recruitment. “She sent a package over to Istanbul (where McBride plays for Fenerbahçe overseas) and everything. I could feel the love from day one.”
The recruitment didn’t stop with gifts. Reeve even went to the lengths of doing her research on eSports, NBA2k, and Call of Duty to connect with Powers, who is an avid gamer.
“For Coach Reeve to really see my passion — not only see that passion, but involve herself and become knowledgable about it — that made [signing with the Lynx] even more ‘Duh, AP! She’s into eSports! She’s curious!’” Powers said. “That doesn’t mean she has to love it, doesn’t mean she has to like it. The fact she knows I’m into [eSports] and she wants to become more knowledgable about it, it really hit home for me. It was big for me.
“The controller is dope.”
Beyond Xbox controllers and Beats By Dre, Reeve cites the investment in infrastructure from Glen Taylor as a key proponent in making the Lynx a sought-after free agent destination. The Timberwolves and Lynx owner built The Courts at Mayo Clinic Square in 2015, with an emphasis that both franchises share the state-of-the-art facility as one. Taylor has always been adamant that the Lynx have access to the same benefits like nutrition and physical therapy as the Timberwolves. That has not been lost on Reeve.
“We’ve got the best facilities of any team in the WNBA, and it’s not even close,” Reeve said. “We have the best owner in the WNBA. When we say it starts at the top, these are subtle things that are incredibly valuable. When you walk into our facility it’s dual-branded [with Timberwolves and Lynx logos]. Everywhere you see Timberwolves, you see Lynx. That’s not hard to do, and it’s intentional.
“When you leave [women’s sports] out, that’s intentional as well and that speaks volumes.”