Last offseason, leading up to the 2023 WNBA campaign, the Minnesota Lynx had hopes of landing one or two of the big-name free agents on the open market. They landed meetings with Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and others with the goal of joining a team in Minnesota led by Napheesa Collier, Kayla McBride and others who were hungry to return to championship contention.
That plan didn’t ultimately pan out as hoped, with Stewart and Vandersloot teaming up in New York while other top-name free agents elected to sign elsewhere. That resulted in the Lynx shifting their focus from a win-now mentality to a long-game approach while focusing on the future of the organization.
“There were some free agents that we were involved with. We didn’t have any grand illusions that we would be landing Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones or Courtney Vandersloot, and there was a free agent of that group that we felt good about because of the year prior. But when those three decided to play together, then that obviously kind of took us out of it,” Lynx Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Cheryl Reeve said on the Hitting the Hardwood Podcast with Mitchell Hansen.
“When that was decided for us, when our direction was decided for us, we sort of said that if you get these free agents, you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you know what you’re doing. If you don’t get these free agents, you’re locked in and you’re focused on being forward thinking and having some young players that you now focus on developing. That’s where we’re at as we go into this offseason.”
Now with a full year of that vision under their belts, the Lynx carry that same mindset into this offseason after putting together a season many didn’t expect them to in 2023. And they also have the ability to spend some money on areas to improve the roster even more in 2024 and beyond.
Dedication to Development
Regardless of what people on the outside thought of Minnesota or expected out of the team in 2023, the Lynx had their own expectations internally and stayed the course with those plans throughout the year.
This season wasn’t necessarily about wins and losses, it wasn’t about how far the team would reach in the regular season or in the playoffs. It was about development and growing as a group. It was about putting in the work today to set up for a better tomorrow.
That mindset started on day one of training camp in April and carried through the final game of the season in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs in September.
“As we sat 40 minutes from being in the semifinals, what we really reflected on was that the excitement that we had, that we did this, and we grew and evolved as a team with our stated goal of focusing on youth and focusing on the future and people that would be with us in the future,” Reeve said. “That was one of the biggest success stories of the season.”
That doesn’t mean that road was an easy path to take for Reeve and the entire Lynx organization. It’s hard to not get caught up in the results of every game and how far you reach in a season, and the slow start to the 2023 campaign tested that commitment to something greater than just this year.
But Minnesota was determined to focus on developing this year’s youth so they can evolve into becoming annual contenders for years to come. And the success they ended up finding along the way just put the cherry on top.
“As was documented, the early season losses sort of piled up. I think the thing for all of us was that we tried not to focus on results. What we were focused on was that we felt like we were right there. The team felt like that and as a staff we felt like that we just need stay the course and focus on just developing and improving,” Reeve said.
“I think the success of the remainder of the season was largely where we sort of had shortcomings in the beginning. … On the season, we ended up really flipping that narrative and being a team that found success. Probably, I would imagine, because of what we learned early in the season,” Reeve continued. “That’s kind of what our team was about. I said this a lot that, though we were winless through the first six games, if you showed up to the gym and were around our team, you would never know it. That was also really important to us. For the players in terms of the mood and as a coaching staff in being very forward-thinking. Just flushing anything that didn’t go our way and turning the page to the next day.”
The Offseason and the Future
Much like last offseason, the Lynx have big hopes for the offseason ahead. Not necessarily in terms of being able to go out and try to sign free agents — which they have the cap space to do — but rather to continue the development and the growth of the players within the organization.
That means the continued growth of Napheesa Collier, who took another step towards an MVP level in 2023. That means the continued leadership and calmness of Kayla McBride that has excelled the play of her and her teammates. And most importantly, that means the development and improvement of Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász as they transition from rookies into their second year in the WNBA.
“We’re just watching a lot of players, our own players, and trying to be in communication with them as they’ve started their offseason play. Or if they’re not overseas, then certainly the ways that we can support them in their growth from a sports performance standpoint,” Reeve said. “Whether they’re taking care of their bodies, how they’re going to grow their bodies and be able to be different than what they were the year before. ... I think what you’re looking at is can you just make incremental progress.”
Internal growth will play a large role in Minnesota’s success, but it will also be key as to which players the Lynx are able to surround that core with, whether that be in free agency, through the draft or other avenues.
“Our focus is on how we can help them improve, the information that we’ve given them, the ways that we’ll support them, that will be big for us. We also know we will try to have a player in the draft that can be a part of what we’re doing, that will be important to us,” Reeve said. “We can’t obviously determine just yet who’s in the draft to know how deep it is or how deep it’s not. But the draft is certainly going to be pivotal for us, so we’re going to work really hard on that.
“Then free agency is something we will look at, but I’ll tell you we won’t overreach. We won’t put ourselves in a situation where you look at it and go ‘okay, that’s a stop-gap, why’d you do that?’ There’s probably one position that we would consider — when we say a stop-gap, meaning maybe it’s somebody that is going to be with you for a year or two, but maybe we feel like it’s a necessity,” Reeve continued. “But again, making sure that we don’t overreach financially, that will be a priority for us.
“By and large, we really want to focus on players that will be a part of the future as you can see a vision over the next three to five seasons and what we can grow into.”
Listen to the Full Podcast
Hear the entire Hitting the Hardwood podcast with Cheryl Reeve, including her full reflection of the 2023 season and what she thought of the year that was, some players that stepped up throughout the year, what surprises popped up over the summer, what the Lynx might do this offseason, what the team is focused on in 2024 and beyond, and more.