2023 WNBA Free Agency is set to kick off at 11 PM CT tonight — 12 AM ET on Saturday, January 21 — and the Minnesota Lynx are in the thick of the action.
2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, the crown jewel of the league’s free agents class, announced simply with emojis the four teams she would be holding meetings with to kick off the W’s negotiation period. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne confirmed the speculation around Stewart’s tweet.
Breanna Stewart will meet with the Seattle Storm, Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics and New York Liberty when free agency opens at midnight ET, sources told ESPN. The meetings will take place in Istanbul, where Stewart is currently playing. https://t.co/aj5w9JgMa8— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 20, 2023
Shelburne also said as part of a four-tweet thread that Courtney Vandersloot’s free agent decision is “expected to factor into Stewart’s decision as well.”
Lynx President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Cheryl Reeve is in Istanbul, Turkey to meet with Stewart, according to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune. Stewart is playing there for Fenerbahçe of the EuroLeague during the WNBA offseason alongside Lynx guard Kayla McBride.
Two-time All-Star forward Napheesa Collier was overseas this week in Paris representing the WNBA at the NBA’s global game between the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, but there is no word of whether or not she will be joining the contingent of Minnesota brass in making the trip to Istanbul.
Red Carpet Phee at #NBAParis— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) January 19, 2023
» @NBA pic.twitter.com/5DF9O0wh7f
(As a side note, Minnesota is reportedly also interested in former Chicago Sky forward Azurá Stevens, who is currently playing for Galatasaray, also based in Istanbul, according to Howard Megdal of The Next. So, it’d make sense that the Lynx meet with Stevens this weekend as well.)
That is great news for Lynx fans as they are one of the three teams that is expected to meet with both Stewart and Vandersloot, joining the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty. The Liberty made a big splash earlier this week by landing 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones — via a trade with the Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings — to pair with 2022 All-WNBA First Team selection Sabrina Ionescu.
It should be noted that Vandersloot also met with the Lynx last year during free agency before returning to Chicago on a one-year deal. Vandersloot’s wife Allie Quigley decided to return to her hometown team for one last run last year, which certainly factored into Vandersloot’s decision to re-sign with the Sky. But now with Quigley expected to retire, the Lynx may be in a better position to land Vandersloot this time around.
Stewart played at UCONN and won a National Championship in 2016 with Collier and recent Lynx point guard Moriah Jefferson (who is now a free agent), now plays for Fenerbahçe alongside McBride, and has plenty of experience suiting up to represent USA Basketball, for whom Reeve serves as Head Coach of the Senior Women’s National Team after several years as an Assistant Coach.
The versatile 6-foot-4 forward averaged a league-best 21.8 points on 47.2/37.9/83.7 shooting splits, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists to 1.3 turnovers, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks and registered a staggering and career-best on-off of +22.0 across 30.9 minutes per game in 34 contests for the Storm, all starts.
Named to the All-WNBA First Team and WNBA All-Defensive First Team last season, Stewart is playing elite two-way basketball. She can score it better than almost anyone else in the W each of the three levels of the floor, defend 1 through 5 positionally, overpower teams on the glass, and outrun guards in the open floor.
At 28, the 2022 MVP runner-up would almost single-handedly shift the balance of power in the league. Assuming that she and Vandersloot would be a package deal, the Lynx would find themselves right back in title contention led by a dynamic quartet of Stewart, Collier, Vandersloot and McBride — the foundation of an excellent team on both ends of the court.
Acquiring Stewart would allow Collier to play the 3, something that would make the Lynx a more dangerous team on both ends of the floor. With a front-court of Collier (6-foot-1), Stewart (6-foot-4) and perhaps Stevens (6-foot-6), Minnesota would present a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses with size that can all shoot, dominate the glass, fly around with long and rangy defenders, and still beat teams in transition.
It’d be hard to bet against a team with a starting five of Vandersloot, McBride, Collier, Stewart and Stevens bringing another title back to Minnesota, and I’d love to see Lynx fans get the opportunity to cheer that squad on.
The Lynx currently have $539,278 in cap space, according to Her Hoops Stats, which is more than enough to sign Stewart and Vandersloot, and still make additional moves beyond that. Minnesota also holds the No. 2 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, which could be used either to select a talented player on a rookie scale contract or as a trade asset potentially packaged with wing Aerial Powers as part of a move to acquire more win-now talent.
Between free agency, the draft and the trade market, the Lynx are expected to be aggressive in overhauling the roster to build around Collier, and is likely a factor in Stewart’s decision to take a meeting with Minnesota.
“We’re going to be really open-minded. I think that you’re going to see a fair amount of movement,” Reeve told Canis Hoopus in November, after signing an extension with the Lynx. “Not all teams have that three-level ability, and we do. So, that’s going to be an advantage and that’s how we’re going to be positioning ourselves to be able to do what we’re saying, which is to be in a space that we’re accustomed to being in.”
Minnesota’s ownership triumvirate of governor Glen Taylor and minority owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez share Reeve’s desire to be aggressive with improving the team and moving the organization forward.
“That’s what I think is really meaningful. I talked with [Marc], Alex and Glen about the league, where we are, and when we talk about the top ownership in the WNBA, where we fall in that,” she explained later in the same conversation. “We are a part of the group that is very interested in the league taking these next steps from an economical standpoint, from an investment standpoint.
“I’m very encouraged by that and our ability to remain as a gold standard in the league. That’s going to be because your ownership allows you to do that.”
When you combine that shared alignment with the league’s best facilities, a first class championship culture, familiarity with existing players and staff, interest from Stewart’s hand-picked running mate going back a year, and the greatest coach in league history, you can create one heck of a free agent pitch.
That’s what Reeve and Co. will present over the next 24 hours in Istanbul, hoping that all roads lead back to the corner of N 1st Avenue and N 7th Street in Downtown Minneapolis. Even if it means a trip 5,500 miles from home, the Minnesota Lynx will stop at nothing to bring championships back to a city that is desperately craving a winner to support.