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Lynx Mailbag: Free Agency, the Draft and Transition of An Era

Welcome to the first Lynx Mailbag of the year, where our Mitchell Hansen will answer your questions on the Minnesota Lynx and the WNBA periodically throughout the offseason and once the year begins.

Los Angeles Sparks v Minnesota Lynx Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the first Lynx Mailbag, where I will answer your questions on the Lynx and the WNBA at points throughout the year!

As the writing of this mailbag, we sit on the cusp of the WNBA offseason getting much busier ahead of the 2023 season with movement starting to take place around the league with free agency about to get much more interesting. The window for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents spanned Jan. 11-20, with players starting to speak to teams starting Jan. 21 before being able to officially sign contracts on Feb. 1.

So far, we have already seen movement on the sidelines with coaching staffs, as well as some player movement including the blockbuster three-team trade that sent star forward Jonquel Jones from the Connecticut Sun to the New York Liberty.

To get you caught up on some recent Lynx news this offseason, I wrote earlier this month about why this offseason will be an important one for the Lynx with big decisions to be made in the draft, free agency and potentially the trade market. In other news, Maya Moore officially announced her retirement from the Lynx and the WNBA as she reflected on her career and life to this point.

Without further ado, let’s dive into your questions in this edition of the mailbag.

Jim Hudspeth: What do you predict will happen at the Lynx’s starting point guard position?

Along with the post position, the guard spot is one that is of need for the Lynx as the offseason gets underway. Lynx head coach and president of basketball operations Cheryl Reeve said this offseason Minnesota has been on the search for and has not yet found the right floor general since Lindsay Whalen retired in 2018.

After giving trial runs to a few different point guards since Whalen’s retirement, the Lynx once again find themselves in a spot where they need to address the point guard position.

When it comes to what might happen at that position and who might fill it, I believe that will depend on how things go in free agency. Minnesota is going to start by trying to swing big in free agency, and Courtney Vandersloot is viewed as the top option available. If the Lynx aren’t able to interest Vandersloot, perhaps options like Kristi Toliver, Tiffany Mitchell, Erica Wheeler, Courtney Williams and Jordin Canada would interest the Lynx.

WNBA: Minnesota Lynx at Chicago Sky Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

I do believe Minnesota is going to look to address the point guard position in free agency, whether that is a player who will come in and take over as the starting guard or someone who will play a supporting cast along with another point guard on the roster. I also wouldn’t rule out the Lynx re-signing Moriah Jefferson, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and had a nice year with the Lynx a season ago.

If Minnesota is able to land one of the top point guard options in free agency, it will go that route and focus on needs elsewhere with the remaining cap space and/or through the draft. I believe the Lynx currently want a long-term option at guard more than they want a long-term option in the paint. If they aren’t able to land a top free agent, perhaps they sign a supporting player while drafting someone like Stanford guard Haley Jones or another guard with the second pick in the draft.

Tim: Assuming the Fever take Boston, do the Lynx draft for positional need with Kitley or best player available with Haley Jones?

The Indiana Fever are going to draft Stanford star Aliyah Boston with the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft. If they don’t, the world might actually end. Boston is the No. 1 pick; she has been and will continue to be viewed that way until draft day.

With the Lynx at the second pick, that’s really where the draft will begin. That could play into Minnesota’s favor, especially if it wants to and hopes to trade away that pick prior to or on draft night. That pick could end up being in high demand as teams get more intel and scouting reports on college prospects.

If the Lynx do end up holding onto that pick, who they select I believe will depend largely on what happens in free agency. If Minnesota lands a top free agent, that will persuade what the remaining needs are on the team and which prospects fill those needs.

Hypothetically, let’s say the Lynx miss out on the top free agents and decide they want to hold onto whatever player they want with the second overall pick. If that is the case, I believe they go with the best overall prospect available. In the WNBA Draft, you almost have to go with the top prospect available since there are few “franchise-changing” players available in each draft.

Stanford v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

With that said, I believe Minnesota ends up taking Stanford’s Jones with that second pick. I do recognize the need in the post, which makes Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley an intriguing option, but I believe the Lynx could land someone in free agency that could at the very least fill that post role for the 2023 season. Now, if the Lynx are able to land a top guard in free agency, I believe they would then either draft a post player or trade away the draft pick to bring in talent elsewhere.

Andrew: How will the Lynx deal with the loss of Sylvia Fowles on and off the court?

To say Minnesota will miss Sylvia Fowles is an understatement. Not only with her contributions on the court, which were still All-Star worthy up until the end, but in the locker room and off the court as well.

Fowles was a leader for the Lynx, both on the court and off. Over the last few years of her legendary career, Fowles emerged into more of a leadership role after the likes of Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson left the team following their playing days with the Lynx.

“Mama Syl” helped the organization transition from a veteran-heavy roster to a new era featuring a younger roster, and she was that veteran presence and voice throughout it all. You can’t replace a player like Fowles, performance-wise and morale-wise. She lifted everyone up when they needed it the most and she also motivated and yelled when she needed to.

In 2023, that leader both on and off the court who will fill the void left behind by Fowles needs to be Napheesa Collier, who will have some help from other veteran players as well. But Fowles will certainly be missed by the Lynx, and they need to find a replacement on the court as Collier takes over in the leadership aspects off.

EricJrAllStar: What does Phee have to do in your opinion to reach the next level on the court for this team?

First and foremost, Collier getting back to playing shape and getting back into the routine of things after giving birth at the beginning of the 2022 season will be key for her attempting to reach another level this season. Now is a good time to remind everyone that she somehow was able to return to play professional basketball just 10.5 weeks after giving birth. That’s unbelievable.

Collier noted this offseason she isn’t 100% back to form just yet, but said she believes she is getting them. When it comes to what she could work on in her game to improve in 2023, working on becoming more of a consistent shooting threat will be one of the keys for Collier to continue to improve. She’s already showcased her explosiveness and being able to impact the game on both ends of the floor, but she’s taken a bit of a step back in shooting production over the last few years. If Collier is able to become a consistent offensive threat, even more so than she has been, she will only continue to be more dominant.

Atlanta Dream v Minnesota Lynx Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Along with her on-court performance, she will also need to become more of a leader on the court and take things over for her team now with the leadership role solely in her possession. Not that she hasn’t had the freedom to before, but Collier needs to take things over as the go-to option for Minnesota this season and beyond.

“Something I want to work on is being more vocal in what I want and what I have expectations for, and holding people to standards on the team, because it’s not always easy holding people accountable,” Collier told our Jack Borman in December. “I’ve always prided myself in [leading with] actions. I always work really hard ... but I want to be able to express that as well. That’s how I want my leadership to go. I still want to be who I am and lead by example, but also to encourage people vocally, and do it that way as well.”

The 2023 season will not only be an important year for the Lynx in general, but it will be an important one for their star player as well. Not just on the court, but off the court and as the official new face of the franchise moving forward.

Jeremy Hernandez: Know of any specific coach or player plans for the Athletes Unlimited season next month?

The second season of Athletes Unlimited Basketball tips off Feb. 23 and will run through March 25 at Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas, Texas. For those unfamiliar, Athletes Unlimited Basketball is a women’s professional basketball league that provides an opportunity for women to play professionally in the United States while also giving WNBA players an option to remain in the United States year-round rather than going overseas.

After a successful inaugural season in 2022, the second season commences in February with a total of 39 players having joined the roster, 17 of those who have WNBA experience. Some key names currently signed include WNBA players Lexie Hull, Lexie Brown, Natasha Cloud, Sydney Colson, Allisha Gray and NaLyssa Smith.

When it comes to specific personnel details for the second season, those details are still being finalized heading into the new year. What we do know currently is the roster of players planning to play, as well as the fact that CBS Sports Network will broadcast five of the 30 games live, with the remainder of the games available to be viewed on the Athletes Unlimited YouTube channel.

Athletes Unlimited has been a great avenue for players to either continue playing outside of the WNBA, or to play during the WNBA offseason before regular-season action begins. It’s a nice alternative for players who don’t want to head overseas when WNBA action isn’t taking place.

That will do it for this offseason edition of the Lynx Mailbag. As always, thanks for submitting your questions and for reading. Enjoy the offseason as movement begins to take place, and be sure to check back here for coverage on all the latest news as WNBA free agency and the offseason rolls along ahead of the 2023 season.