A year ago the Lynx, whose starting lineup had stayed the same for the better part of a decade, had run out the string with a group that had produced four WNBA titles in seven years.
Lindsay Whalen retired. Rebekkah Brunson, whose season had ended because of a concussion, did not return. Maya Moore took a very open-ended sabbatical.
Apparently, the rest of the league thought the Lynx’s eight-year run of making the playoffs was going to fall victim to a rebuild.
No one told Lynx coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve, who was named the WNBA’s basketball executive of the year, an award voted on by a panel that included one executive from all 12 teams; voters were not allowed to choose themselves.
“They are equally satisfying,” said Reeve, who won coach of the year awards in 2011 and 2016 and added GM responsibilities between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. “Because of the amount of work that goes into formulating a roster for success.”
Each exec voted for their top three, with first-place votes worth five points, second worth three and third worth one. Reeve received four first-place votes, two for second and two for third, totally 28 points, one more than Las Vegas GM Dan Padover, who got four firsts, one second and four thirds.
It comes after the busiest offseason since Reeve arrived as Lynx coach in 2010. The Lynx had just five players returning from 2018.
“It was daunting. That’s probably the best word for it," said Reeve, adding that she shares credit for the roster makeover with assistant coach Walt Hopkins and assistant GM Clare Duwelius. "It consumed us. We were not going to let this thing fall off a cliff. We were very aware of the people lining up to cheer the demise of the Minnesota Lynx.”
With a lineup that included four new starters from the five that took the floor for the last game of 2018, the Lynx finished 18-16, advancing to the playoff for a ninth straight season. This despite season season-ending injuries to forwards Karima Christmas-Kelly and Jessica Shepard and knee surgery that limited Seimone Augustus to spot duty in 12 games.
Here are some of the major moves Reeve made:
• On Feb. 1 she signed free agent Christmas-Kelly. A strong signing, Christmas-Kelly’s season was ended with knee surgery, but she is expected back for 2020.
• A couple of days later Reeve signed forward Damiris Dantas, a restricted free agent in Atlanta, to an offer sheet the Dream did not match. Back where she began her career, Dantas started and had career highs in points (9.2) and assists (3.2) and was the team’s best three-point shooter (39.3%).
• On April 10, the Lynx drafted Napheesa Collier with the sixth overall pick and got Shepard in the second round. Collier was named WNBA rookie of the year Monday and is already a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward. Shepard was effective off the bench before sustaining a season-ending knee injury.
• Shortly after the draft ended the Lynx sent second round selection Natisha Hiedeman to Connecticut for guard Lexie Brown.
• On April 22 Reeve traded little-used Alexis Jones to Los Angeles for Odyssey Sims, who came to Minnesota and became an all-star for the first time.
All that said, Reeve isn’t happy with just making the playoffs. So this offseason, while probably not as hectic as last year’s, will be busy.
“We’re not done getting this thing where it needs to be,” she said. “I don’t want to be a perennial single-elimination team. Our culture is set higher than that. We have a lot of work to do.’’