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Roster Reloaded: The 2021 Minnesota Lynx

General Manager & Coach Cheryl Reeve was not messing around this free agency.

lynx.wnba.com

Ahhh... the fresh smell of a successful competent Minnesota basketball organization!

Although the WNBA has yet to announce when their 2021 season will kick-off this year, I’m already counting down the imaginary days until it begins. Free agency officially began a few weeks ago on February 1st and transactions are still taking place, but teams like the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces have stolen the headlines by siphoning franchise cornerstones Candace Parker (CHI) and Chelsea Gray (LVA) from the Los Angeles Sparks. Other recent champs like the Seattle Storm (#1 pick hot potato) and Washington Mystics (Alysha Clark) have also made notable moves for better or worse as well. 3 of these 4 teams received ESPN’s top 4 grades of the offseason.

That brings us the our Minnesota Lynx.

Many pundits expected last year to be a “rebuild” season for the Lynx. Despite tri-captain Karima Christmas-Kelly tearing her Achilles in just the second game of the season, Minnesota would shock the league and exceed all expectations by making it as far as the semi-finals of the postseason. That accomplishment in itself should be lauded. The Lynx still had a solid core to build on starting with back-to-back Rookie of the Years and college teammates Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, veteran presences (and former all-stars) in Sylvia Fowles and Odyssey Sims, and solid emerging role players in Damiris Dantas, Lexie Brown, and Bridget Carleton heading into the offseason.

How would Cheryl Reeve respond to recent critiques that the Lynx have often been far too quiet in free agency?

Kayla McBride

A huge get by Cheryl Reeve! Kayla McBride was considered a top 10 free agent this offseason. McBuckets is best known for... well, gettin’ buckets. For a career 36.7% volume three-point shooter, McBride’s talents have long been muffled by playing in a non-3-point shooting system in Las Vegas. For reference, the Aces took a league low 253 total 3s as a team last season (McBride took nearly 30% of their 3s). That’s more than 100 less than the second-lowest team, the Atlanta Dream (371) in an abridged season no less. I’m looking forward to what the 3x all-star is capable of in Reeve’s more modern space-oriented scheme. The gravity that she’ll command on the floor will certainly open up things for Fowles and Collier to operate in the post. The 28 year-old is in the prime of her career despite a down season last year. For anyone with concerns about her numbers, let’s not forget about what she’s been fighting through:

It’s O.K to Fall Apart” by Kayla McBride

Imagine a dumbbell just sitting on your chest. After a while, it like sits into you.

It’s almost engraved in you.

That’s what my anxiety is like. That’s what I wake up with every single day.

I lost myself during quarantine.

There were days when I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to work out. I didn’t want to train. I didn’t want to be around anything or anybody. I couldn’t shut off the fact that I didn’t feel O.K. when I woke up and looked in the mirror. Some days I didn’t recognize who was staring back at me.

If you haven’t had a chance to read this beautiful yet vulnerable piece by McBride which she has chosen to share with the world, do yourself a favor and take a 10-minute break to do so. I guarantee it will be worth it.

Kayla McBride introduction press conference

Natalie Achonwa

We know what type of synergy former college teammates can produce on the WNBA hardwood. Drafted just 6 picks (#9) behind her college teammate, Kayla McBride (#3), in the 2014 draft, Natalie Achonwa has had a fruitful career thus far. Although none of Ace’s numbers jump out at you, the Canadian is a consummate professional who is willing to do the little things that don’t always show up in the box score. With this move, Reeve has shored up the frontcourt rotation who will also act as a strong locker room presence:

I’ve likened Natalie to Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was with us for our first championship... Taj had this element of not caring if you ran a play for her... the number of times a great screen leads to a great possession. It’s a lost art, and that’s something Natalie really enjoys doing.

Aerial Powers

As I’m writing this, Aerial Powers has yet to officially sign on the dotted line with the Lynx yet. However there was some chatter about a fallout with the Washington Mystics leading up to the offseason. Many were surprised with that tea, considering the key role that the former #5 pick played in the Mystics’ lone championship crusade in 2019. The Mystics seemed to have already moved on as they offered her this sendoff over social media which, well...

Powers, who is a member of the Lynx according to herself, will be a huge coup for this roster. With her former MVP teammate Elena Delle Donne sitting out last season due to medical reasons, Powers was having a banner year, putting up career-highs across the board before a hamstring injury in her 6th game of the season ended her run. The crafty guard could play a microwave scorer off the bench role or fit nicely as a scoring guard next to Dangerfield. With as dynamic of a player as Powers is, she will easily be a star in her role.

Off the court, Powers is an avid gamer who signed with Team Liquid. You can support her Twitch stream at here. In an interview with USA Today, Powers discussed why she chose to join Team Liquid and the importance of being a part of their diversity and inclusion task force:

I spoke with their co-CEOs Victor Goossens and Steve Arhancet. Their values align with mine and that really gravitated me to join their team. As you and I both know, gaming appears to be male-dominated. But it is not. More than 40 percent of gamers are women. When I spoke with their executives, we had the same vision. They realized that I was the right person to lead this task force because of my passion for this. Esports come down to the skills that you bring to the controller. But women in gaming still face some serious cyberbullying. I wanted to do whatever I could to help stop that.

Loose ends

What was next for the Lynx after those 3 RachBombs (I strongly advise you to follow Rachel Galligan on Twitter for all the up to date WNBA news)? In a somewhat unexpected move, Reeve chose to move on from their 2020 first round pick, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, sending the rookie forward to Seattle in exchange for their 2022 first round pick. This likely stems from the acquisition of Achonwa while also posturing for future flexibility. I was a bit saddened with this one, as KiKi showed a ton of promise as a 3&D big last season. She should settle into a nice role with the Storm.

Erica McCall, who was signed in wake of the KCK injury, was dealt in a sign-and-trade to Washington for a 2022 third round pick. A small, but notable return for a player who was scooped up off waivers last year. Big time salute to Bird as she had some of the most memorable blocks for the Lynx in 2020 as highlighted in our Lynx Signature Series.

Lastly, in smaller news, the Lynx signed Linnae Harper to a training camp deal. The undrafted point guard had previously signed a similar deal with the Lynx last season before getting cut along with Erica Ogwumike. She is currently averaging 13.7/4.6/4.1 overseas and will be a longshot to make the final roster.

Depth chart

There are likely smaller moves still to be made around the edges until we are closer to seeing how the final roster will take shape. We still have our lone 2021 draft pick (1st round). Cece Zandalasini could return. Even Maya Moore could return. The salary cap sheet still needs to be balanced. However based on what we know now and my best guess, the current 12-deep depth chart could look something like this:

PG: Crystal Dangerfield / Odyssey Sims / Rachel Banham

SG: Aerial Powers / Lexie Brown

SF: Kayla McBride / Bridget Carleton

PF: Napheesa Collier / Damiris Dantas / Jessica Shepherd

C: Sylvia Fowles / Natalie Achonwa / Jessica Shep

We’re now -1 more imaginary day towards tip-off in our quest to be the first franchise to five championships!

UPDATE:

In order to make room for Aerial Powers, the Lynx have moved Odyssey Sims (among other assets) to the Indiana Fever. It also appears that the Fever will be waiving Sims and her salary to allow the 28 year-old guard to enter free agency. While making the roster space to acquire Powers’ guaranteed contract was necessary, moving on from Sims, Temi Fagbenle, and draft capital is still sizeable price to pay. What they lose in their ‘22 1st round pick, the Lynx gain in the MHH trade for the Storm’s ‘22 1st round pick.

Whew.

Although Sims’ time with the Lynx has come to a close, I want to acknowledge the contributions that she brought to Minnesota in her 2 years here. In her first season, Odyssey blossomed into a first time all-star in 2019. In season two, she would join her teammates in the wubble just 4, FOUR, months after giving birth to her son, and provided a meaningful role in the Lynx playoff run. She’ll forever be remembered as an absolute warrior who I will truly miss.

With all that said... hit the damn music!