With the calendar year flipping from 2022 to 2023, things are about to get interesting for the Minnesota Lynx and the rest of the WNBA leading into the 2023 season.
For starters, January marks the start of the free agency period in the WNBA, with teams able to make qualifying offers to free agents from Jan. 11-20. Starting Jan. 21, players can begin speaking to teams before officially signing contracts as soon as Feb. 1.
Following that period will be the 2023 WNBA Draft, which will occur on April 10 following the conclusion of the college basketball season. Minnesota currently owns the second overall selection in the draft.
Along with those two key offseason events, teams will also be able to start analyzing the trade market and potentially making deals with any of the other 11 organizations to acquire or send off players and assets.
Although every offseason is important as teams try to field the best team possible ahead of the new year, this offseason will be perhaps one of the most important for the Lynx as they officially turn the page to a new era headlined by Napheesa Collier as the face of the franchise.
The first objective of the offseason will be starting to analyze the free agent market and which players the Lynx either want to re-sign or add to the roster ahead of the 2023 season.
As free agency begins in January, Minnesota has five players under contract, according to Her Hoop Stats. Those players are Collier, Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa and Jessica Shepard. Players who were on roster in 2022 who are free agents this offseason include Rachel Banham, Damiris Dantas, Moriah Jefferson and Bridget Carleton.
Those five players under contract account for roughly $882,000 of the overall $1.42 million salary cap teams are required to remain under. That means Minnesota has about $540,000 in cap space to re-sign or acquire players in free agency.
“Currently, we have five players under contract, and I don’t know what the future holds in terms of Natalie [Achonwa]’s pregnancy and that sort of thing. I always take the path that it’s best to work as if there’s that player until they are able to play. Our mindset is we have two post players. So, that’s clearly a target of our team,” Lynx head coach and president of basketball operations Cheryl Reeve said in a one-on-one interview. “In free agency there’s certainly an opportunity for some really good players that we could add. There’s no question that is a target for us. It is a nice free agency class, and there’ll be opportunities there in that regard.
“Then we certainly have needs on the perimeter that I think really since Lindsay Whalen, there has been sort of an in and out at the point guard spot. I don’t know that [those perimeter and point guard needs] would be any different. I would say that we, like probably eight of the teams in the WNBA, will be searching for the answer in 2023 for leadership at the lead guard spot,” Reeve continued. “That’ll be on our minds, but again, there’s good opportunity there for us as well. Then there are other perimeter needs and depth. We have a free agent in Bridget Carleton that I think teams will find her valuable. Depth is important as well. There are layers to this thing. You certainly have your priorities, but all those things are running parallel in terms of how you’re trying to improve in each of those areas. I think it’s not a secret that post play is a target for us.”
For free agents available this offseason, there are some intriguing targets such as Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Nneka Ogwumike, Brionna Jones, Emma Meesseman, Tina Charles and more. The Lynx will likely try, like every other WNBA team, to see if signing one of those top targets would be a possibility. If not, Minnesota still has the ability to bring in some talent this offseason via free agency and will explore every possibility to accomplish that.
“I think, like the NBA, the WNBA free agency is a priority in terms of building a successful team, Reeve said. “The priority is free agency. In our case, and in terms of the idea of a reload, that’s where it’s going to come from. It’s not going to be through the draft. The draft is important to us, but we’ve got some quality picks at two and 12 and 16, and it will be valuable to us. Every team needs the smaller contracts, if you will. But even more than a small contract, you need good, young talent.
“In terms of meaningful activity in the offseason, it will be centered around free agency.”
Along with free agency, the draft could get interesting for the Lynx and the possibilities that could come out of that draft in April.
Ahead of the draft, Minnesota holds the second and 12th picks in the opening round of the three-round draft, also holding the fourth (16th overall) and 12th picks (24th overall) in the second round and the fourth selection (28th overall) in the third round.
“We’re locked in on just sort of understanding how we see the draft,” Reeve said. “When you’re picking number two, and I’d say probably in this draft that it’s like the draft will begin with our pick. I think it’s widely considered who the number one pick will be. ... There are possibilities if you’re at the top of the draft to secure a player that can be in your franchise for many years.”
If the Lynx hold onto their picks, they will be getting at least one player who could come into the team and contribute right away after completing their collegiate career. Those players would also be cheaper players in terms of salary compared to any free agents signed or players traded for.
If Minnesota didn’t want to hold onto those early selections, it could try and move those picks in a few different forms. That includes perhaps trading a few picks for future draft picks, packaging a pick or picks along with a player to bring in talent from another team, or trade the picks straight-up in exchange for a player or players.
Either way, the Lynx have just about as much flexibility and plenty of options at their disposal leading up to and during the draft like they have in free agency. Conversations surrounding Minnesota’s draft picks will occur leading up to April’s draft and will probably continue on draft day if any deal(s) haven’t already been made by then. Now it’s about what the Lynx want to do after getting an idea of how free agency shakes out, and ultimately how they view the prospects in this year’s draft.
“We just have a lot of possibilities to consider while trying to determine the best fit. In some ways, free agency will shape that as well,” Reeve continued. “We’ll do our due diligence and go through our rankings and have conversations with people about that pick — and how do they see it, and what’s the value of it — and just make sure that we’re doing the very best we can with being a number two pick because it’s not necessarily something we want to do year in and year out.
“We did get lucky. We do recognize that, and we’re really appreciative of that. Now it’s how do we maximize it.”
Without a doubt, the quickest way to bring in win-now talent for any team in the WNBA is to go out and trade for a player you think can take your roster to the next level immediately. More often than not, teams aren’t trading away valued assets for role players, but rather difference-making talent to make an immediate splash. Minnesota has explored those possibilities in the past and will continue to do so again this offseason while trying to fill out the 2023 roster.
This option feeds directly into the previous two offseason items already discussed — free agency and the draft. It perhaps deals more directly with the draft, especially when it comes to potentially packaging picks and/or players together in a trade with another team. Free agency obviously impacts how much flexibility you have in acquiring players via trade, notably if you sign a player or players, how much salary cap space you have left to bring in a player who likely has a larger-sized contract.
Regardless, Minnesota likes to make moves that puts the organization in win-now mode. Reeve has noted multiple times over the last few years that she doesn’t like any part of the idea of a rebuild, and Reeve and Company will take that mindset into this offseason again while exploring all possibilities — especially the trade market.
“I think all things are on the table for us. There are three ways to improve your team, and certainly trades would be a way,” Reeve said. “Having such an asset, as in these first round picks, the consideration is for what people would possibly bring our way to improve our team. So, trades and free agency and draft, any possibility of improving, is what we’re looking at. If it’s pairing a couple of those to get where we’re trying to go, if that makes sense, then certainly it’s on the table.”
If Minnesota isn’t able to get some of the top talent available in free agency, the idea of a trade could increase and the Lynx could look into that avenue to surround Collier with another star on the roster. Perhaps a player like Connecticut Sun post Jonquel Jones could become available now with the shift in leadership on the coaching staff in Connecticut. Maybe a guard becomes available for Minnesota to acquire to solidify that position while addressing the need of a post player in free agency or the draft.
Either way, there are plenty of options available for the Lynx this offseason, and all options are on the table to improve the roster and return to the playoffs in 2023. With a new era officially underway in Minnesota, this offseason will be important in shaping the start of that era this summer and beyond.
“There are a lot of conversations with teams, and that will be ongoing all the way through into February. We’re all looking to do the same thing,” Reeve said. “Opportunities for players via trade requires assets, and we do have assets. That’s a positive. Any possible way to retool our team to achieve the success that we’re accustomed to is what we’re going to be after.”