The Lynx opened training camp Sunday with championship aspirations. In other news, water is wet, babies are cute and cotton candy is bad for your teeth.
No duh, right?
The Lynx don’t understand the concept of mediocrity. Not this core group, winners of three WNBA championships and five trips to the Finals in six seasons.
That’s probably the most impressive aspect of sustained excellence by coach Cheryl Reeve and her trusted leaders Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson. Not since joining forces in 2011 has that group displayed an ounce of competitive complacency.
The Lynx are as motivated now as they were in pursuing their first championship, maybe more so because their time together is finite.
“Once you’ve tasted it, you know how it’s supposed to feel,” Moore said. “We don’t want to go back.”
The Lynx are an old team. Players seem to find motivation in hearing that. They are also a prideful group. Joke about AARP cards at your own peril.
“We’re getting tired of coming back here and hearing how old we are,” said Augustus, who turns 33 on Sunday. “I don’t think any of us is trying to outrun Father Time. We’re just trying to dance as slowly as possible with him and enjoy the ride until the music stops.”
In sports, we tend to view a team’s opportunity for success as a “window.” The Lynx’s window has lasted so long it has become a floor-to-ceiling pane. Their core keeps getting older, but they remain at a championship level, physically and more importantly, in ambition.
“Everybody talks about the window closing,” Reeve said. “We took a stick and wedged it to keep the window open. We’re not letting it close.”
They know it will close eventually, because age is undefeated in sports. But their absence of complacency was evident in decisions by Moore, Whalen and Augustus to forgo playing overseas this offseason. They sacrificed lucrative paydays — Reeve estimates stars can earn between $300,000 and $500,000 overseas — in order to rest their bodies to be fresh for the WNBA season.
That’s how serious they are about prolonging their careers and winning more championships together.
“I’m at a time in my career where I’m still really good and my teammates around me are very good,” Moore said. “I value that. I enjoy being at my best with this group.”
Reeve admits the bull’s-eye on her team gets heavy at times. They have lugged it around since winning their first title in 2011. Reeve recalled a conversation she had with Moore a few seasons ago during a rough stretch.
“Our normal is so high that when we aren’t there, everybody looks at us [negatively],” Moore told Reeve. “We feel responsible to constantly be at that normal.”
They are driven by it, consumed by the challenge of maintaining their normal. Reeve often gives speeches to corporate executives. She stresses the value in recruiting competitive people. Her team is filled with ultra-competitive personalities.
“You’re not going to have to poke them,” Reeve said.
That would be like poking a bear. Teams don’t stay at a championship level for this long without talent and self-motivation. The Lynx’s talent is without question, headlined by Moore, one of the best women’s players in the world.
Talent alone can’t account for their six-year stretch of dominance. Reeve marvels at how angry her players get if they lose in a shooting drill in practice. Nothing other than pride is at stake. That’s not the point. They lost something and that burns them.
The organization has displayed its urgency by supplementing that core group with veteran additions, sometimes at a cost of draft picks. The Lynx added another veteran piece this offseason, forward Plenette Pierson.
The championship-or-bust window remains open after losing a chance to repeat in the final seconds last season.
“I want us to sprint to the finish line,” Reeve said. “I don’t know where the finish line is.”
It’s out there somewhere. The core group isn’t ready to cross it. They are all getting older but are no less driven to win more championships.