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Continued: Lynx: Drafting high, achieving low

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 11, 2011 - 6:22 AM

There is little suspense about what will happen when the WNBA draft begins Monday afternoon.

The Lynx will take UConn forward Maya Moore with the first overall pick. She is already being called a once-in-a-generation player.

Talk to Lynx executive vice president Roger Griffith or coach Cheryl Reeve. They might shy away from identifying Moore by name. But this is a foregone conclusion. They're already talking about how she'll fit in with the current team, how she'll augment star guard Seimone Augustus.

Just the other day Griffith was joking about how hard it will be giving both scorers their recommended daily allowance of shots. "We're not sure if [point guard] Lindsay Whalen has the hardest job in the world now or the easiest," he said.

So that much we know. Monday afternoon. Moore. Let the preseason promotions begin.

But here is where there is suspense: Will this finally be the catalyst to getting the Lynx to the WNBA playoffs, where they haven't been since 2004?

The Lynx have been down this road before. High draft choices come with the nonplayoff territory. The Lynx had the first overall in 2006 (Augustus), '07 (Lindsey Harding, via trade) and 2010 (sent to Connecticut as part of the deal that brought Whalen here). The Lynx also had the third pick (Candice Wiggins) in 2008, the fourth pick in 2009 (Renee Montgomery) and the second pick in 2010 (Monica Wright).

And yet the team has never won a playoff series.

"For people who are kind of mired in that previous lack of success, you can't really fault them," said Reeve, about to enter her second season as Lynx coach after four years and two titles as assistant to Bill Laimbeer with the Detroit Shock. "But I felt like, for me, I have a great deal of confidence. This is my 11th season in the league. I've seen playoff teams. I know what they look like and feel like."

Back to the past

Griffith will strongly defend the draft choices through the years. Augustus is a two-time All-Star but has twice seen seasons shortened or affected by injuries. Wiggins, an impressive rookie, had last season short-circuited by a torn Achilles' tendon. "Oh, you should have seen her," Lynx assistant Jim Petersen said. "She was inconsolable."

Harding struggled, then had knee surgery in her first season. Montgomery was OK, but not great, before she was traded.

And there have been other issues.

"I hate to go down the list," Griffith said. "Because it sounds like excuse-making. There is no doubt that, for the last several years, we have expected better finishes than we've had. Each year has been different. We have been affected by injuries. Some years we have had chemistry issues. ... The team has not always come together the way we thought it would."

Augustus had knee surgery in 2009, and just before camp in 2010 she had abdominal surgery. Reeve and Griffith are convinced Augustus never got back to 100 percent.

The Lynx perhaps didn't respond well to the injuries to Augustus and Wiggins, standing pat rather than scrambling for reinforcements. Bottom line? The team, despite a 13-21 record, came one victory away from the playoffs.

"But then, if we win one more game, we don't get the top pick," Petersen said. "It's like when the Spurs got Tim Duncan. Sometimes to build a winner you need a little luck to go with it. You might say, 'Woe is me' along the way. But this player is pretty special. This is a once-in-a-lifetime type player."

Change in fortune?

Griffith and Reeve sound like a couple of people who figure their luck is about to change.

They think Augustus will finally be back to her pre-knee surgery level. Whalen, who spent the first half of last season getting used to her new team, can hit the ground running. Even the addition of Moore shouldn't slow that; they played together in the world championships.

Wiggins should be healthy, too. But the Wolves might be talented enough to have her come off the bench. Here is a possible lineup: Whalen at point and Augustus at shooting guard. Moore at small forward and Rebekkah Brunson -- one of the league's better rebounders -- at power forward. Veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin -- part of that 2008 Shock title team -- was signed as a free agent to play center, although she is 40.

This gives the team a lot of outside scoring, good rebounding and defense inside. The Lynx would like to get bigger, which might be where the No. 4 pick comes in.

To Reeve, another big item will be chemistry. "This team is very respectful of each other," she said. "It was that way last year, even in tough times, and that's hard to do. That's something we can build on. Now the next step we want to take is that they hold each other accountable."

Optimism reigns

Laimbeer now is an assistant with the Wolves. He's been keeping track of Reeve and her team, and after a recent practice he made a prediction. "They are going to contend for a title," he said.

The team should be healthy. And another big piece will be in place.

"The No. 1 pick is somebody who is going to be known as one of the best women's collegiate basketball players ever," Reeve said. "As a No. 1 pick, her immediate impact? Look when Seimone got here, the roster she was playing with. And then look at this roster."

Said Griffith: "This year, you're looking at a person that doesn't come along very often. Every year, the first player taken is theoretically the best. But some No. 1s have been better than others. This is the year that's very unique. This is a special situation we have, one that doesn't come along every day."

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