In what has become something of an annual tradition, the Minnesota Lynx have once again remade their bench.
After losing Renee Montgomery in free agency, Natasha Howard via trade, and Jia Perkins and Plenette Pierson to retirement, the faces that make up Minnesota’s depth will be different this summer.
The most important addition to the reserve unit happened Tuesday as the team announced it had traded its 2018 first round draft pick (12th overall) to the Phoenix Mercury in return for three-time WNBA All Star and three-time All Defense selection PG Danielle Robinson and Phoenix’s 2019 second round draft pick. Lynx GM and head coach Cheryl Reeve was nice enough to talk to me about how the team arrived at this deal.
“Our original plan was to resign Renee,” said Reeve. “Then free agency took a turn. We felt pretty good about Alexis Jones as Lindsay’s backup and then we got a call, got an opportunity (to acquire Robinson). While it may not be the most immediate need, it is a need that probably after this season we start to go ‘we need to consider the PG position a little more seriously’. Lindsay Whalen isn’t going to play forever and to be able to have a succession plan, this is a pretty good one.”
Lynx fans might be wondering where this leaves second year guard Alexis Jones. The sharpshooter from Baylor was buried on the bench most of last season, but with Montgomery opting to sign with Atlanta, many felt the backup job would be entrusted to Jones.
“Last year [playing time for Jones] was not a priority. We want to get her on the floor and take that next step. We suspect the beginning of the season you’re going to see a pretty guard-heavy group and AJ is a part of that. I just want her to grow and be in some of the situations she was in the last third of [last] season.”
In Robinson, the Lynx are getting a defensive stalwart. Someone Reeve can trust to make it difficult for the opposition at the point of attack. Minnesota led the WNBA in defensive rating in 2017 and this move enhances their ability to rely heavily on their defense again this season.
Montgomery’s long-range shooting will be missed and Robinson will not likely be the player to replace it. She’s been a non-threat from deep in her career thus far (0-33 3FG in six seasons). Reeve believes that there are ways to work with Robinson’s many other talents to create threes.
“She might not shoot it, but she’s going to get us three balls by collapsing the defense. That’s incredibly valuable. Her decision making, she drives and finds shooters. We’re going to expect her to bring that part of her game. It’s a fact: she’s six years in, has not made a three in her time in the WNBA. That will change. That has to change. She’s incredibility excited about the opportunity.”
Veteran depth has been key to this Minnesota Lynx dynasty run. The franchise has risen to an unprecedented level of excellence where another championship is the only goal. Having the right mix of selfless, experienced players goes a long way to accomplishing that. In the last seven seasons Minnesota has won 85% of their games and has won four titles. Reeve believes that part of keeping players like Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson from letting complacency creep in is the presence of veteran players searching for a ring.
“It’s important to surround that core group with players that have that hunger, that haven’t done it before, that have that eagerness to say ‘I’ve watched you guys do this, I want to do it for me.’ I think that hunger is important because it’s contagious.”