Their departures ranged from surprising to shocking. The four Lynx stars who won four titles with the team left, one by one, for wildly different reasons on paths as divergent as bicycle spokes, leaving their former team facing a forced march from stability to chaos.
The Lynx are facing their most unusual winter, leaving them with few guards and declining expectations, while the WNBA bolsters the league’s rising popularity with its most dramatic offseason.
The Lynx may never be quite the same, unless they can navigate the WNBA’s new promising-yet-perilous landscape.
The league’s growing pains are gnawing at Lynx fans. The WNBA is enjoying its first winter of true, mind-bending, roster-altering free agency, creating a handful of seeming superteams. The superteam of the last decade suddenly finds itself down to one ring-wearing star.
Seimone Augustus was the first of the four Lynx OGs — their original greats. Chosen with the first pick in 2006, when the Lynx were as irrelevant in Minnesota as shark repellent, Augustus played 14 seasons with Target Center as her home, helping the franchise grow from afterthought to four-time champion.
She became the last of the four to depart on Thursday, signing with the archrival Los Angeles Sparks.
This is what a more popular and fluid WNBA looks like — like other major sports, where fan loyalty is constantly tested by heartache, and popularity is driven by player movement and the rampant speculation surrounding every possibility.
All of which leaves the Lynx trying to rebuild, reload and recalibrate on the fly.
Maya Moore left to campaign for prison reform.
Rebekkah Brunson, the only WNBA player to win five championships, retired after dealing with the effects of concussions, and recently joined the Lynx staff as an assistant coach.
Lindsay Whalen, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, left to coach the Gophers.
With Augustus’ departure, the Lynx have no one remaining from their first championship team, and only one star remaining from their last championship team — center Sylvia Fowles.
The obvious answer to the Lynx’s problems is free agency. But the Lynx, like so many other Minnesota sports teams, are finding the market risky.
Lynx General Manager and coach Cheryl Reeve has always raved about point guard Kristi Toliver, but Toliver wanted to come to Minnesota only if she could play with DeWanna Bonner.
The Lynx were interested in Bonner, but not at the price she leveraged from Connecticut in a sign-and-trade. The Sun gave Phoenix three first-round draft picks and signed Bonner to an expensive long-term deal — believed to be for as long as four years — at the age of 32.
The Lynx dynasty was built on first-round picks, trades and a bit of luck. They were bad enough in the 2000s to land Augustus with the first pick in the draft. They dealt for Whalen, got Brunson in a dispersal draft, and selected Moore with the first pick in the draft.
Reeve’s predicament is that she wants to contend every year but hasn’t had a high pick in the draft since 2011, when the Lynx chose Moore. So she’s left with Fowles, reigning Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier, a slew of proven or promising wings and forwards, and no true point guards.
Lexi Brown is a shooting guard who could play the position, and Reeve doesn’t mind running a modern offense in which the ball handling and passing could become shared tasks.
The combination of player losses, a decade of success and the rest of the league throwing money and draft picks at available stars has made this a quiet winter for the Lynx, leaving Reeve sounding a lot like every Twins executive ever quoted on the perils of free agency.
“You could be aggressive and find yourself in trouble,” Reeve said.
Because true free agency is new to the WNBA, she has studied the effects of free-agent moves in the NBA, and for every superteam assembled that won a title there are five that break the bank and bust franchises.
As a champion of women’s basketball, Reeve loves the excitement this wild offseason has brought to the WNBA, even if the Lynx, for once, have been little more than spectators.