The tumult that has characterized the Lynx roster in recent days is rooted in realizations, late in training camp and early in the season, that key veterans chosen to try to keep the team competitive in Sylvia Fowles' last season weren't going to work out.
It all starts there: Coming to the decision, just days before the season opener, that point guard Layshia Clarendon's leg was perhaps not sound enough to withstand the pounding of a condensed, 36-game season. At least to start, with four games in the first nine days. Then realizing, three games and three losses into the season, that forward Angel McCoughtry's knee was just not ready for her to play at her best.
The latest: The addition of veteran point guard Moriah Jefferson, who will start Saturday against the Chicago Sky, the defending WNBA champion. It is a move eerily reminiscent of coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve's decision to sign Clarendon last season after an 0-4 start.
The bottom line is the Lynx signed Jefferson, moved Evina Westbrook's status from replacement player to full roster status and re-signed replacement players Yvonne Turner, Nikolina Milic and Hannah Sjerven.
That's all because of the difficult conclusions regarding Clarendon and McCoughtry, that the team wasn't where Reeve thought it should be. The decision to part ways with Odyssey Sims, who is dealing with a personal matter, was another blow.
"We kind of put the group behind a little bit,'' Reeve said. "In terms of a key position. I mean, who wants to be making changes at the point guard spot 72 hours before the season? But here we are. And we'll do what's necessary. We'll keep tweaking until we feel we've got the team where we want it.''
By Reeve's admission, the decisions put the team in a difficult spot, playing, as Reeve put it, "playing from behind, talent-wise."
But behind all roster moves: Reeve's admission that, though this year's training camp was better than 2021, it wasn't good enough. And her frustration with the team's inconsistent effort through three losses. With three days off after Tuesday's loss in Indiana, the Lynx took Wednesday off. Thursday and Friday Reeve pushed the team hard in practice. After it was over she hinted that, unless that effort level changed, more changes were in the offing.
"I don't want to be coaching effort and toughness," Reeve said. "Those are things you want your players to bring every time they play. And I haven't held them accountable enough prior to [Thursday]. Now we're holding them accountable. And frankly, if we keep asking you to do it over and over again, we'll start to make the assumption that you can't do it. And that leads to a different decision, either not playing or not being on the team. We'll do what we need to do to get to where we need to go."
Reeve admitted she let things go in camp even when she shouldn't have. "We live in this world of load management, this that and the other," Reeve said. "And it gets in the way sometimes of really conducting practices in a way that you know has to happen to build the right habits. As a coach I probably let some things slide."
That has changed. Reeve worked the team vigorously two straight days. The only way to compensate for playing from behind talent-wise is to work harder. Reeve pledged this team will.
"There is only one path," she said. "And it's how hard you work."
Into this upheaval, Jefferson hopes to bring a veteran's leadership to a team that needs it badly.
Jefferson won four NCAA titles with Connecticut and was the second overall pick by San Antonio (now Las Vegas) in the 2016 draft. The 5-6 guard started all 34 games as a rookie, averaging 13.9 points and 4.2 assists. In a season in which her UConn teammate Breanna Stewart ran away with rookie of the year honors, Jefferson was the only other player to get a vote.
Unfortunately, knee issues limited her to just 46 games over the next three seasons. First the right knee, which kept her out of the 2019 season. Then her left, which forced her to miss 13 games in 2020. But she's healthy now, and ready.
"Getting a chance to take this offseason to really strengthen my body, get healthy," she said. "And now with a chance to be here? I think it all worked out the way it's supposed to."
Jefferson said she is thrilled to play with Fowles, something she always wanted to do. She said her role is to come in, play aggressive defense, and on offense put players in a position to succeed.
"I'm excited," she said. "I'm ready to go. I've been here literally a few hours and then got right into practice. I talked to coach. I understand my expectations. I understand what she wants, what the team needs for me. And that's what I'm going to do."
Lynx fans will remember last season, when Clarendon was thrown into the fire, with Reeve yelling plays to her as she was dribbling up the court. It worked then. Can it work again with another veteran guard?
"We're turning up the heat on expectations, and Moriah walked into that," Reeve said. "And I think she was fairly comfortable."