This is what happens in sports, right?
Players get older. Their value changes. Their skills diminish. They have options.
They leave, and are replaced by new players — and everyone else slides up the pecking order.
It’s natural. And yet when it happens all at once, across so many teams — as it has lately in Minnesota sports — it feels jarring.
Many of the longest-tenured athletes in major Minnesota pro sports that were here when February started are now gone.
The latest? Seimone Augustus, easily the longest-tenured Lynx player (14 seasons) and second-longest tenured athlete in any major pro sport in the state, agreed Thursday to a free agent deal with the rival L.A. Sparks.
That same day started with Everson Griffen — the longest-tenured Viking — voiding the final three years of his contract, making him a free agent. While he could wind up staying with Minnesota, he certainly could go elsewhere once the new league year starts next month.
Earlier this month, the Wild traded Jason Zucker — the third-longest-tenured member of that organization — to Pittsburgh.
That was just a week or so after the Wolves traded just about everyone on their roster — including Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins, Nos. 1 and 2 on their seniority list.
In some ways, even the retirement of Joe Mauer — at the time the longest-tenured athlete in any sport — feels fresh even though it came at the end of the 2018 season.
The longest-tenured mantle now belongs to the Wild’s Mikko Koivu, who made his debut on Nov. 5, 2005 — less than a year before Augustus. Koivu has a full no-move clause in his contract, so it would take some doing before Monday’s trade deadline for him to be next. But you never know.
What we know is this: All those mainstays are bridges to the past, a different era, usually better times. And their departures feel like a significant turning of the page.
Think about Griffen: He’s been with the Vikings since 2010, long enough ago that he played with Antoine Winfield Sr. If he manages to stick around in 2020 with the Vikings, he could play with Antoine Winfield Jr. – projected in Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft to go to the Vikings with the No. 25 pick.
Augustus, though, feels like the most jarring departure. She was the last of the “Big Four” Lynx players who were on all four WNBA title teams — along with Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson — who played for the Lynx in 2019. With Moore again sitting out while Whalen and Brunson are retired, Augustus’ departure leaves that number at zero in 2020.
What we also know is this, though: Gone doesn’t mean forgotten. Whalen, when asked Friday about Augustus during her media availability as Gophers women’s basketball coach, put that sentiment into meaningful words.
“She changed the Lynx. But she also changed the state. She’s been a figure here for 14 years,” Whalen said, as relayed to me by the Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood. “Yes, of course, everybody wishes she was going to play here, finish her career here. But that doesn’t take away 14 years of having the impact that she’s had.”