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Lynx Center Jess Shepard to Miss 2024 Season, Continue Playing in Italy

Minnesota will be without its starting center from 2023 as Shepard will fulfill contract commitments for her Italian club, Umana Reyer Venezia.

Minnesota Lynx v Dallas Wings Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx announced on Wednesday afternoon that center Jess Shepard will miss the entire 2024 WNBA season.

Here is what the team said in their official release:

“Shepard plans to remain in Italy to fulfill contract commitments with her Italian club, Umana Reyer Venezia, and as a result is subject to the WNBA’s collectively bargained prioritization rules.”

According to our friends at Her Hoop Stats, WNBA prioritization rules get more strict beginning with the 2024 WNBA season.

“Players must complete their offseason playing obligations by the start of camp or May 1 - whichever is later - or they will be suspended for the entire year.”

This is unfortunate news for the Lynx, who lose their starting center from last season. Shepard averaged 8.1 points on a career-high 51.6% shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists to 1.4 turnovers, and 0.7 stocks in 26.9 minutes per game across 21 contests (17 starts). The former Notre Dame star was a key playmaking hub for the Lynx in the half-court and their most consistent presence on the glass, which Minnesota will certainly miss even with the additions of Alanna Smith and Natisha Hiedeman.

Another added layer of this situation is that 2024 is the final year of Shepard’s contract with the Lynx. She has an unprotected contract, meaning the Lynx could theoretically waive Shepard without incurring any financial penalty, and they would gain $123,600 in cap space — the amount Shepard was set to earn in 2024.

But Minnesota hasn’t done that, because they would lose exclusive negotiating rights with Shepard when she becomes a free agent around this time next year.

The good news for the Lynx is that Shepard’s contract will not count towards the cap, so General Manager Clare Duwelius and the Lynx front office now have an additional $123,600 at their disposal to use either in free agency or in trades. The Lynx also have the No. 7 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, and could go in any direction position-wise.

They could also use the pick — and/or their first-round picks in 2025 and 2026 — in a trade package to acquire a currently rostered player into that cap space. We saw that happen on Wednesday when the Los Angeles Sparks acquired Kia Nurse and the No. 4 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft from the Seattle Storm in exchange for a 2026 first-round pick.

Here is what the Lynx roster looks like after the Shepard news:

  • Napheesa Collier
  • Kayla McBride
  • Alanna Smith
  • Natisha Hiedeman
  • Bridget Carleton
  • Diamond Miller
  • Dorka Juhász

Minnesota has more than $525,000 in cap space to fill out the final four (or five) roster spots.

For the latest on the Lynx roster movement during free agency, make sure to bookmark our Lynx Free Agency Tracker and stay tuned for more news and analysis in the coming days!