On Monday, the Lynx will travel to Florida and enter the WNBA “bubble,” where they will begin the process of kick-starting their 2020 WNBA season.
Upon arrival? Constant testing for COVID-19. A quarantine period before a projected first practice on Friday or Saturday. An insular existence that will take the team from training camp to a shortened 22-game schedule and, perhaps, a 10th straight berth in the playoffs.
“It’s about getting in there, getting the lay of the land and kind of getting into a rhythm,” Lynx coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “It’s going to take a little time. But the basketball part of it, I feel confident. That’s what we do.”
The team looks much different from last year. New mother Odyssey Sims is expected to join the Lynx at some point, but won’t be with the team at the start. There will be two new starters at guard, with Shenise Johnson at one spot and the trio of ex-Gopher Rachel Banham, holdover Lexie Brown and rookie Crystal Dangerfield vying for time at the other.
The roster has undergone some reconstruction, with a new backup center (Kayla Alexander), a finally healthy backup small forward (Karima Christmas-Kelly), rookie forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and the guards to go with returning starters Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier and Damiris Dantas.
With camp days away, Reeve talked about the upcoming season.
Q: What is your biggest question mark, or challenge, as you get ready to start training camp?
A: I just think the details of a day. Getting the routine. Getting the timing down on what works the best. I mean, once you get going, it becomes a well-oiled machine. But you have to … get in there and learn what works and be ready to tweak things when it’s not working. It’s things like the facility. Things like the weight training area, the Lynx-dedicated space. All those details that you might have something in mind of what it should be. And then you get down there, and functionally it needs some reworking.
Q: When you look at your roster, where do you feel better about your team now than you did at the end of last year?
A: I feel better about our ability to space the floor than I felt last year. More shooting. Acquiring Rachel. Elevating Lexie’s position. Acquiring Dangerfield in the draft. We have players who can stretch it.
Q: What are your biggest roster question marks?
A: I think probably more of not necessarily individual people, but more of identity of our team, that you have to learn through training camp. Mapping out minutes, that sort of thing. So just navigating who we are. And I think a lot of teams are going to go through that. We’re not the only team that has had some changes. I think everywhere around the league, whether it’s via trades, free agency or COVID, has rosters looking different. So I think we’re all going to go through that.
Q: Your bench looks different. How do you feel about your depth?
A: I like our depth. I think that’s going to be one of the strengths of our team. ... I haven’t had them up close and personal in the trenches yet. But I’m enthused by Kayla Alexander’s ability to be a very serviceable player for us. Kiki as a rookie. I have Napheesa’s ability to play the four. Karima Christmas-Kelly being healthy will be a big boost for us. And I think we have, whether it’s a Shenise Johnson, or the flexibility of a Rachel or a Lexie, we have some really good options.
Q: You made Fowles, Collier and Christmas-Kelly your captains this year. Fowles was a given. What was your thinking with the other two?
A: Karima was basically a captain last year. I thought her ability to lead and not be present every day on the court with them. She has a unique ability. They listen to her. So that was a no-brainer. And frankly I thought Phee was one of our better leaders last year as a rookie. Same path as Maya (Moore), from when she was a rookie to her second year, was when we made Maya a captain. Because of her abilities to do the right things, say the right things. Phee has all those qualities as well.
Q: When we last saw Phee she was trying to beat Seattle almost single-handedly in the playoffs last year. Rookie of the year, finishing the season strong. What’s her next step?
A: I think she would tell you there is greater familiarity right now about what it means to be a WNBA player. I think the places she invested some time is a little more perimeter-oriented skills. Coming from college, where she was primarily a post, we threw her into the fire (at the small forward position). She handled it great. She added things to her game quickly. But now, she’s had the offseason to train more like a perimeter player. So that means being able to run off screens, being prepared to shoot. That means being able to play in the pick-and-roll game. Handling the ball in transition effectively. Those were the things I think she’d say she spent the most time on. She’s a worker.
Q: Are you confident Christmas-Kelly will be healthy?
A: I’m confident we’re on the right path. The unknown is the response. Karima and Chuck (Barta, head athletic trainer) and Kate (Taber, assistant athletic trainer) have worked so closely on the timeline for how we were doing things. Being very mindful of doing some impact there, so we could see reaction. At the same time maximizing the ability to strengthen the area. So I think we’ve done everything we possibly can to put her in great position as we start camp. We will also make sure we don’t overdo it in camp with her, so we can have her for the long haul. Does it guarantee everything is going to go well? No. Nothing is guaranteed.
Q: What about the competition at the other guard spot with Lexie and Rachel?
A: It’s just hard to know. You can see them playing together, you can see them platooning in different situations. We won’t know until we get into camp. I think for our fans, I’m sure it’s going to be fun to watch that. I think it’s easy to say they’ll both be a part of it. Exactly how it looks, I don’t know. But I’m excited about both of them.
Q: With the 22-game season, there will be more emphasis on each game. Do you prepare any differently for a shortened schedule?
A: We’ve always prepared to be a really good team in the beginning when we come out of camp, so that focus will be the same. We also know, from doing this for 20 years, that you’re always a better team later in the season than you are in the beginning. But we don’t have the mind-set that we take our time and build to that. Our mind-set is we want to be a really good team on July 25. The first time we play. That is a tall order, given the limited time we’ve had together. And that’s the situation for every WNBA team. You don’t have as much prep time. So you have to be really good in the time you do have together. Keeping things simple. Being really good at a few things as opposed to trying to run a lot of things and not being very good at any of them. But the way we start a season is something we’ve always valued. But doesn’t mean that’s our ending point. It’s to be really good, and try to built on that.