For the second straight year, Maya Moore is devoting her time to life rather than basketball. As a result the Lynx are once again preparing to play without her.
Moore’s decision to skip the WNBA season again was first reported in an interview with the New York Times that was published online Wednesday. Moore said she also will not vie for a spot on the United States Olympic team for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
“I’m in a really good place right now with my life, and I don’t want to change anything,” Moore, 30, told the Times. “Basketball has not been foremost in my mind. I’ve been able to rest, and connect with people around me, actually be in their presence after all of these years on the road.”
Moore played eight seasons with the Lynx, winning four WNBA championships, and was the league’s MVP in 2014. She took home Olympic gold medals in women’s basketball in 2012 and 2016.
She surprised the Lynx and the WNBA last February when she announced that she intended to take a year off to focus on criminal justice reform, particularly the case of Jonathan Irons, a man serving a 50-year prison sentence for burglary and assault in Moore’s hometown, Jefferson City, Mo. Moore believes he was wrongly convicted.
Lynx coach and General Manger Cheryl Reeve said she got the news from Moore in a conversation Tuesday.
“What you have to do is figure out what you do have, and how to be successful. I thought our team last year showed our ability to be resilient and remain a playoff team.”
The two sides have been in touch regularly over the past year. But, Reeve said, the conversations were always about Moore’s part in the Irons case and her ministry and not about basketball.
“We were engaged with the work she was involved in,” Reeve told the Star Tribune on Wednesday after the Times report was published. “Because the conversations were not basketball-specific, there was no assumption about what she was going to do, one way or another. When I listen to Maya, hear the way she expresses herself, I know how much that work — with the Irons case and her ministry work — has taken out of her, how much she’s had to give. It makes sense that the timing of this season isn’t going to work with her.”
So, for a second straight season, the Lynx will enter a season without Moore.
Last season, without Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen, the Lynx finished 18-16 and tied for sixth overall with Seattle before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
As Reeve has said many times, Moore is not replaceable.
“What you have to do is figure out what you do have, and how to be successful,” Reeve said. “I thought our team last year showed our ability to be resilient and remain a playoff team. … I know Maya wishes us the best in that. We’re hoping we can be even more successful this season.”
It was important to know Moore’s plans because WNBA free agency negotiations begin Tuesday.
Sylvia Fowles returns at center, with Damiris Dantas and last season’s rookie of the year Napheesa Collier at forward. The Lynx have a solid backup for Fowles in Temi Fagbenle, who will be given a tender to retain her rights. And there is depth at forward, with Karima Christmas-Kelly (right knee) expected back at full health as well as Jessica Shepard, who had her right anterior cruciate ligament surgically repaired.
So much of the Lynx’s focus in free agency could be on the backcourt, with point guard Danielle Robinson a free agent. Moore’s $117,000 salary will not count against the team’s cap.
Reeve said she had planned for either outcome, Moore returning or not.
Moore signed a two-year deal before announcing her decision a year ago. That contract will run out after this season. The Lynx would still retain her rights, but she would have to sign a new contract to return to the WNBA in 2021.
“I told her there is always a place for her here,” Reeve said.
Asked by the Times if she would ever play basketball again, Moore said:
“I don’t feel like this is the right time for me to retire. Retirement is something that is a big deal, and there is a right way to do it well, and this is not the time for me.”