Shortly after the Lynx essentially had traded the 14th pick in the WNBA draft last week to San Antonio for veteran guard Jia Perkins, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve explained the move by saying the team owed it to veteran stars Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus.
That’s why, with a glaring need for depth at guard, the team decided to go with Perkins, a proven 34-year-old veteran, rather than trying to draft and develop a rookie. And that tells you a lot about the state of the Lynx as they prepare to open training camp Sunday.
“We’re kind of at a time in our franchise history that it’s about trying to win a championship,” Reeve said. “And doing anything we can do to do that.”
When she says win a championship, Reeve means win another with a core of players who have been there for the first three. And, in the case of Whalen and Augustus, two of that core’s older members, dictating a future-is-now philosophy.
Starting with a solid base
The Lynx are defending WNBA champions, having walked off the Target Center court Oct. 14 with their third title in five years.
All five starters are back.
But there is a ton of work to do as training camp begins.
The team has to essentially rebuild its bench and establish new rotations. Reeve wants to use the camp to integrate center Sylvia Fowles even more into the offense.
The Lynx open the regular season against Phoenix — buoyed by the return of stars Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor — at Target Center on May 14 in a nationally televised game between perhaps the two best teams in the league.
A lot to do, not a lot of time.
“We’re sort of reinventing ourselves,” Reeve said.
Bench is a concern
A short list of what has to happen between now and May 14 begins with adding perimeter depth.
In an effort to take some minutes off Augustus and Whalen, Reeve has to find players capable of performing in backup roles. Renee Montgomery is the only top reserve back from last year. Anna Cruz is prepping to play for Spain in the Rio Olympics and likely won’t make it to Minnesota this season. Tricia Liston was waived. The team signed Nika Baric from Slovenia and traded for Perkins. Czech guard Katarina Elhotova also signed, but she will not play for the Lynx this year because she is pregnant.
“Clearly that was at the top of our minds,” Reeve said of taking pressure off her starting guards. Augustus has lost games to injury the past two seasons; Perkins will be key here. Whalen took the year off from playing in Europe, is in great health and might, as Reeve put it, enter this season with “a little bit of a chip on her shoulder.”
There’s also work to be done in the post area.
Acquired at midseason via trade, Fowles, a true center, was integrated on the fly. The Lynx essentially went from a high-post offense to a low-post attack to accommodate her skills. And, while Fowles ended the season as WNBA Finals MVP, Reeve knows having her for a full camp will be key.
“Syl has some stuff to her game that people haven’t seen yet,” Reeve said.
Ultimately, the Lynx will have to decide whether they have the salary cap room to keep 11 or 12 players. And then, how many will be post or perimeter players.
Reeve’s plan is to use Maya Moore’s flexibility to play her more as a stretch power forward. Still the Lynx need to learn how Nathasha Howard — acquired in the Devereaux Peters trade — will fit at power forward.
And the team needs to decide how to back Fowles up at center. Having Janel McCarville return — physical issues kept her out of the WNBA last season — remains a possibility.
But Reeve’s bottom line is optimism.
She expects to see Moore determined to improve her efficiency. She has one of the world’s best centers getting ready to show Lynx fans her full game. She sees a healthy Whalen.
She sees opening day as the beginning of a pitched battle for the top spot in the league. The new playoff format gives the two teams with the best records byes into the league semifinals regardless of conference. It’s a huge prize. With Taurasi and Taylor back with the Mercury after taking a WNBA season off, it’s clear Phoenix will be a contender for its second title in three years.
“Phoenix is at full strength, the Lynx are at full strength,” Reeve said. “L.A., we think, is really good. New York had such a great  season. It’s going to be a fun summer.”