The starters will be familiar when the Lynx open their season in May. Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen.
After that? Fans might need a program.
The Lynx won their fourth WNBA title in seven seasons last fall. Since then? Their top four reserves have either retired, signed somewhere else or been traded. In their place general manager/coach Cheryl Reeve, determined to keep the team’s championship window open, has backfilled with veterans. Tanisha Wright and Danielle Robinson at guard. Lynetta Kizer in the post. Together with returners Alexis Jones, Cecelia Zandalsini and Temi Fagbenle and a number of camp invitees, Reeve expects there will be intense competition.
When camp opens Sunday, Reeve will begin trying to mold a team that won’t skip a beat, chasing a repeat title for the fourth time, trying to become the first WNBA team with five titles, all the while knowing there is more history to her core of five starters than there is future.
“One of the reasons we appreciate our time so much together is we do know we’re closer to the end than we are to the beginning,’’ Reeve said. “It could be our last go-round with this core group, together. It may not. But the mind-set is, you never know. They value and understand how to seize the moment, together.’’
With the preseason opener just days away, Reeve talked about the upcoming season. Here is an edited version of that conversation:
Q. You’re about to begin defending a title for the fourth time. Anything about this time that feels different?
A. I would say no. Other than that we’re a little older, a little wiser than the first three. I haven’t studied the last three defenses, in terms of the stability of the roster. But we don’t return a lot, other than the core group. And we’re not looking at it in the terms you’re describing it, which is a title defense. We’re focused on this year. The idea that we’ve done this three times before, and this is our fourth, we’re just focused on the 2018 season. But if I had to point to anything, I would say older, wiser, and a different roster.
Q. Are you satisfied with the way you rebuilt your bench?
A. Yes. Time will tell for sure, but as we moved through the offseason there were some key acquisitions. We were dealing with the retirement of two key players, so how do we land on our feet, backfill, keep this going to where we have a strong enough bench we’re able to preserve our starters. So, land on your feet. We felt we did that, and some. Time will tell with this group. But I think, the early stages indicate we have landed on our feet, and we’ll see if that’s how it plays out during the season.
Q. Robinson and Wright present a different skill set than (Jia) Perkins and (Renee) Montgomery. How will that affect the way you play?
A. We’re going to look different from the first group. I think we look different from the first group in the last few years as well. … Renee’s ability on every fifth night drop 20, was a luxury to have off the bench. I don’t think we’ll necessarily have that. But we’ll have a more collective unit in terms of scoring, a more shared load. Lynetta Kizer, I’m optimistic about. She has an efficient way of putting the ball in the hole. We’re going to score differently than last year with our second group. I think defensive pressure and pace of the group will be there. And we’ll have to find ways to generate offense with that group. Hopefully it will come from their defense. We’ll put a lot of pressure on the pick and roll with that group. A lot of pressure.
Q. How will the compressed schedule change how you operate?
A. It’s such a contrast. Last year we had 114 days in the season, this year we have 94. So what that meant about last season is there was much more practice time. That’s not necessarily good for an older team. So managing them last year was probably more challenging than it will be this year in that, really, this year it will be more about recovery time. And so I have to make sure they’re not overdoing it in games. We have altered our travel times from last year, tried to stay away from early morning flights. … We’ve paid more attention to rest and nutrition. We’re going to do whatever is necessary to win the games. And then, if I have to alter what we do in practice the next day, that’s where the alteration will come. But it won’t come in games. We’re going to use our bench. I try hard not to run our guards into the ground. I think we’re deep there, serious depth on the perimeter. I don’t have as much depth in the post. I want to make sure Sylvia is in a good place physically. But, at the same time, she has aspirations. Each individual will be a little different.
Q. Who do you expect — and need — to take the biggest jump this season?
A. I don’t have as many returners. I have Alexis, I have Celelia and Temi Fagbenle. I don’t see any significant jumps in any of them, in terms of eye-popping. I see progression. That’s important for us. Like Fagbenle, who hasn’t played, playing is a progression. Being able to be Sylvia’s backup in the rotation that would be a progression. Cecilia came late last year, and she’ll be late to training camp, it might take her a bit to carve out her time. But we like her a lot. And [Jones], who played more than the others, it will be interesting for her. All of a sudden we have veteran backups in Robinson and Wright, progression for her, same thing. Can you carve out meaningful minutes, maybe make us play three guards, a smaller lineup.
Q. How about among the veterans.
A. Robinson. One of our goals with her is to have some more eye-popping results. Kind of rehabilitating her career, get back to the trajectory it was on before her injury (an Achilles’ injury cost her the 2016 WNBA season). I would point to her as probably the most likely to be a big contributor to our being successful.
Q. With Whalen, now the women’s basketball coach for the Gophers, is there any concern at all that she’ll be able to be effective at both jobs?
A. Well, I think I know Lindsay well. I know how she attacks her challenges. And so do I have concern that sometimes she’ll be pulled in different directions. It’s not necessarily a concern. It’s a reality. It’s what’s expected … I think being a Minnesota Lynx player, and being the Gophers coach, it’s fluid. It’s not like you’re only going to be a player from 8 to 2. And a coach from 2 to 12. There will be a lot of intersections there. So I think she’ll handle both things great. I love it. I love the idea that she’s not going to have time to think about being tired or hungry. She is going to be constantly moving and going. And I think that’s a tremendous thing. I think any time a player crosses over into coaching, they have a much greater appreciation for the process as a player. Not that she didn’t. Obviously, Lindsay is great. But it changes your mind-set. And there is an appreciation for why a certain drill or a certain thing in practice is important.So I’m excited about it. I think there is real benefit to us, and our franchise, and obviously there is a benefit for her being a Lynx player as the coach of the Gophers.
Q. You’ve said you’ll likely only carry 11 players to start the season. Given your roster, it will be hard for a first-year player to make the team. That said, where do you anticipate the stiffest competition?
A. I think it has to be in the post. I think we’ll be a tough nut to crack on the perimeter. With Kizer, we’re fortunate she’s been able to be in town early. That’s given her a leg up. Temi has had a great offseason, but she’s injured. It’s a minor injury (A sternoclavicular dislocation, which will put her out a few weeks), but an injury nonetheless. It will depend on how much pressure the players we’ve invited to camp can put on the situation. I like competition. I like it when a player steps up and goes, ‘You need to have me on the team.’ I don’t know which of those will be that player.
Q. Will hosting the All Star Game affect your season?
A. It will affect it in a positive way, with the excitement in our fan base, and hopefully gaining some corporate interest. But to be home during that stretch, in this season, is beneficial. Because of the frenetic pace. … Anyone chosen to be an all star will be able to stay home. That will be big this season.
Q. You have gone all-in trying to keep your championship window open. Will you be able to step back at any point and realize what this group has meant to you?
A. I’ve already started that. I would say after the fourth one, when the buzzer sounded, it was unescapable as a feeling. The group really wanted it in 2017 after the way 2016 ended. I think, along the way, you have moments of appreciation. This group is carving out a place in sports history. A fifth would turn that up to an even higher notch. We have those moments when people talk about how much they appreciate our team. And I can’t avoid those moments. I have that appreciation.