Last summer, playing for most of the season without center Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx finished fourth in the WNBA and advanced to the league semifinals before their Bradenton, Fla., a bubble burst against eventual champion Seattle.
Fowles is back. General manager and coach Cheryl Reeve dived into free agency, emerging with Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa. The Lynx open training camp Sunday with a final roster that appears very close to set and big ambitions.
Reeve's mood? "I'd say excited,'' she said. "Now you have a healthy Fowles, some talented acquisitions. Everyone has a sense of 'We can't wait to get started.'"
Reeve doesn't expect any big surprises when the final 11-player roster is set. The team will need to check the health of Jessica Shepard, who hasn't played since early in the 2019 season because of knee issues. Fowles has recovered from a calf injury that ended her 2020 season. There could be competition for a final backcourt spot. How much will a lack of a practice team affect the team's ability to prepare and stay fresh (a lot).
But most of camp will be spent getting the pieces to fit together. To get McBride, Powers and backup center Achonwa into the mix. To see if Bridget Carleton, a surprise last year, has broadened her game to be able to play shooting guard as well as wing forward.
"It should be obvious, if you move through the roster, to see the players who will benefit by being at our camp, but will have a hard time making the final roster,'' Reeve said.
The GM/Coach also answered some more key questions:
Q: Shepard was so effective as a rookie in 2019 before the ACL tear. Is she ready?
A: She will be able to return to play, so we're excited for Jess. She feels pretty good. … Our roster helps her toward continuing to regain the strength and confidence she needs to make the fullest recovery possible. We think a lot of Jess' skill set.
Q: Without Fowles, over the final 13 games last season, the Lynx were the league's most efficient offensive team. Will it be hard to maintain that trying to work Fowles into the mix?
A: I don't see a problem, because Syl wasn't the reason for the lack of efficiency when we hard her. You're talking about a player that is about as efficient as you can get, shooting 60%. We have to be mindful of the ways we had success when Syl wasn't out there. How do we continue those things? We have to make sure our substitution pattern is set up to take advantage of both playing with her and without her. So there will be two ways we'll be able to play.
Q: And, of course, you'll improve defensively with Fowles; you have talked a lot about how unhappy you were in that area last year, particularly on the defensive boards, where you finished No. 10 in the (12-team) league.
A: I think that was what stood in our way of having a chance of being in the WNBA Finals. If we're not better there, the same result will happen.
Q: What is the next step for Crystal Dangerfield, coming off her rookie of the year season?
A: She has to be the reason why we become a better defensive team. … And, on the offensive end, we saw what she can do in terms of her individual offense. But I think, for overall success, she'll have to balance that by getting us some assists.
Q: What is the next step for Napheesa Collier.
A: To continue on the path of improving her overall perimeter skills. … Phee is still working toward her complete self, with a balance of how good she is in the paint and how good she is at the three-point line, with ball handling skills to the point where she can attack. She really came inter own defensively last season. She's a top-10 player in this league. She just has to continue to climb.
Q: What will surprise fans most about McBride?
A: How competitive she is, her will to win. And how consistent she is. She can shoot the ball, for sure. But it's the intangibles, the things that draw you to player. She will have that impact.
Q: And Powers?
A: Her energy and enthusiasm is so far beyond, maybe, any player I've coached in Minnesota. She'll wear her emotions on her sleeve. There are going to be some high moments, where she rivals what Candice Wiggins did for our team and fan base ... It will be contagious. I felt we really needed that injection into this team.