Lynx prepared for early bumps, aim to stay the course
The expectations are still to be good and compete for championships
On the eve of her 13th season as Lynx head coach, Cheryl Reeve noted she was “much calmer” than she’d been in previous years.
That’s not to say she still doesn’t sweat the small stuff or hone in on the details — that’s part of what she believes makes Minnesota so good. The expectations are still to be good and compete for championships.
But there appeared to be an acceptance that the route to that point might be different. Reeve knows there is no Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson or Seimone Augustus. There isn’t even a Napheesa Collier this season, who’s highly questionable to see action in 2022 as she’s soon expecting her first child.
There is still a Sylvia Fowles, and that’s always reason for hope and the engine behind lofty expectations. But this puzzle is far from finished. In fact, the pieces were further jumbled just days prior to Friday’s season opener in Seattle, when Minnesota waived the likes of Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield and signed Odyssey Sims to be the primary floor general.
One of their replacement players added ahead of Friday’s contest, Nikolina Milic, also was a fresh face to the team.
Making such drastic changes days ahead of the season marked a shift in philosophy for Reeve, who had hoped for a fast start to the season after Minnesota dug itself an 0-4 hole in 2021. That simply wasn’t going to happen this season given the absence of rotation players such as Damiris Dantas, Kayla McBride and Angel McCoughtry and the reshuffling of the current deck.
“Last year taught us to kind of hang in there, we’ll keep working and try to get better as a team, and when you’re making the types of changes we made a couple days before we start, you probably should expect it’s going to take us a little bit of time. So being a little more patient than maybe I would ordinarily be,” Reeve said. “I was proud of myself that I recognized that we actually had a good camp — we did a lot of things that we wanted to do, and then we just sort of recognized that we weren’t exactly there yet roster-wise. So now you kind of go, ‘OK, doesn’t mean that momentum needs to be halted,’ it’s just we’ve got to give them some grace as we’ve presented changes.”
Reeve was asked if the fire may return when the ball actually tipped on the season.
“No,” she joked, “I have sedatives.”
Now, there’s saying it and there’s doing it. But Reeve seemed to largely maintain her calm demeanor, even as Minnesota was blitzed in the second half of Friday’s 23-point loss in Seattle. She certainly didn’t display panic or excessive anger in her postgame comments.
“Concept-wise, there were ebbs and flows. There were times we were good, and times we just weren’t so good,” Reeve said. “We’re not very layered right now, and that’s going to be an evolution.”
That seems to be an accepted reality across the roster. The Lynx understand their current situation, and that the goal is to be much better in June and July than they are in May. There was solace drawn from Minnesota’s first half, in which it scored 41 points and went into the break knotted with the Storm.
“We got the ball moving really good, we got some easier shots for each other, U-turn passes, combo passes,” Lynx guard Aerial Powers said. “Doing that, it’s great to see though, because we’re all still learning each other. Two of the girls just came recently, so we’re still learning each other. We’re going to get better. But it was great to see that we do have it, we just have to have it for longer periods of time.”
That will be a process, which Powers described as “crazy” at the moment. There was a point Friday where they called out a play and a newcomer may have forgotten it. And that’s understandable. Fowles noted the importance of “taking care of each other and treating each other right,” even during the difficult times. There was no finger pointing on the Lynx’s side.
“I loved that (Friday), even though adversity hit, we were still locked in and gave to each other. So that’s big for a team,” Powers said. “Because once we get it all clicking, it’s going to be great. There was nobody blaming each other. We all had each other’s backs.”
And that’s what it will take for Minnesota to navigate what are sure to be some early bumps in the road as the Lynx both try to find their rhythm and, frankly, wait to become whole. That doesn’t mean there won’t be accountability along the way. Powers told her teammates she wanted them to watch film from Friday’s game and find something they personally could do better on each end of the floor, and take that into Sunday’s home opener against Washington.
“This game doesn’t define us. It’s our first game, we’re still learning each other,” Powers said, “but just making sure we’re better every time we step on the floor.”