The closing moments of the Minnesota Lynx’s 2016 season have a tendency to invade coach Cheryl Reeve’s dreams. Maybe that’s not the right word.
“Do I dream about it? No,” she said of the last seconds of Game 5 of last year’s WNBA Finals. “Do I have nightmares about it? Yes. It sticks with you.”
With Lynx fans, too, probably.
It’s hard to shake L.A.’s Nneka Ogwumike’s put-back attempt stopped by Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, only to be followed by Ogwumike getting the ball back and scoring the game-winner in Game 5.
But that’s in the past.
Sunday the Lynx will begin training camp with the goal of winning a fourth league title in seven years. They’ve been here before, winning a title every other year since 2011. With much the same team as the one that finished last season with a franchise-best 28 wins — veteran forward Plenette Pierson is the main addition — Reeve sat down and talked about the upcoming season.
Q This is the seventh year of the window being open for championship aspirations. That’s rather extraordinary, isn’t it?
A The age when we started it was key, obviously. They were in their 20s, in their prime. I think what’s extraordinary is when you watch someone like Lindsay [Whalen], or Rebekkah [Brunson] — Seimone [Augustus] is not quite, agewise, where they are — just their ability to get better. To see the year Brunson had last year, I really enjoyed. And Lindsay, I think she’s getting better. That’s a combination of taking care of their bodies and wanting to learn.
Q Pierson is the latest veteran you’ve added to your roster, something you did the last two seasons. It’s clearly an attempt to take advantage of the opportunity when it’s there.
A Yes. I don’t know that we sat down and said, ‘We want to make sure we only have 30-plus-year-old players on the team.’ It just came together depending on what our needs were at certain times. All of them, being in the place they are, and why the Lynx are attractive, is that people get to a certain point in their career they don’t want to play 30-plus minutes a game any longer. They want to contribute, be important, but where I can share the load. That’s why it’s worked with players like Renee [Montgomery], Jia [Perkins], Plenette. That’s why they want to be here.
Q Still, four of five starters and the top reserves are over 30. You get asked this every year: Does that add an extra sense of urgency knowing that it won’t go on forever?
A It comes from how competitive we are. It’s no secret, they’re not going to play forever. But I think the sense of urgency has been, ‘Our time is now.’… But it’s more, we know they’re not at the beginning of their careers, or at the middle. So, sprinting to the finish line of the careers of those key players … that’s what we’re all after.
Q What is the motivating cry for this season, going for a fourth title in seven years?
A It really comes from this competitive fire that burns. That’s why it’s such a special time, to have this collection of players, for this time, for seven years. We have such a great ability to put away years past. They don’t matter. Amazing times. Fun. We love talking about different points and different seasons. ‘Do you remember when this happened?’ And that’s all great, part of our joy. But they have this tremendous awareness that what happened last year has no bearing on this year’s journey. Their ability to focus on that and say, ‘This is what it’s about this year,’ is important. Each year changes a little bit. We know we have to be better than we were last year. … That fuels us, knowing being as good as we were last year isn’t good enough.
Q Associate head coach Jim Petersen left, and you replaced him with assistants James Wade and Walt Hopkins. How will the vibe change?
A Sometimes you wonder when you take a piece out. And Jim Petersen is not replaceable in terms of what he brought to the table. You want James and Walt to carve out their own identity. And they have done that in a short period of time. We didn’t want Jim to leave. It was lemons, so to speak. We’re trying to make lemonades. And I think we have some sweet-tasting lemonade.
Q Maya has already been an MVP. She has accomplished so much. Is there something more you want from here?
A Yeah, and she looks really good. Today was the first day I saw her. You know, I say I need ‘Prolific Maya.’ Maya is a big component to staying a step ahead. If you ask Maya, she’ll say she has lots to work on. And so, I think you’ll see with her, it’s clear she spent some time on ball handling. That’s a pretty big piece, if she can really add that. She’s already difficult to guard, a challenge. Now if you have the ball in your hands, can you create an opportunity? She looks really good in that area.
Q What will Pierson give you?
A I know what she’s capable of giving us. She has a tenacious way about her. She wants to win, every possession, every drill. She wants to win. She understands schemes. We will play pick-and-pop with her. And if you switch, we’ll post up. She gives you that. She can do that. And she has added the three-ball, which is something really important. I think she’ll be pretty darn important.
Q Who do you see as challenges in the league this year?
A You have to say L.A., they won the championship. It’s natural to talk about the moves that were made. But that can be a little dangerous. It takes a little bit when you make changes to get things going. I’m never counting out New York when you have a defense like that. Certainly you would think Dallas would be in a good position. Young, talented, hungry. And I think we go into it differently than maybe the analysts in that, this league, there’s not much separation between the teams. To leave any team out would be wrong.
Q You’ll be playing your games in St. Paul at Xcel Energy Center while Target Center is renovated. You played a couple of playoff games there last season. Will that be a difficult change?
A This group doesn’t think about that. They play. Am I worried about the traffic? Yeah. But we’ll figure it out.