Seimone Augustus has said many times the 2020 season — her 15th in the WNBA — will be her last.
But it won’t be spent in a Lynx uniform.
Augustus, the first overall pick by the Lynx in the 2006 draft, a four-time WNBA champion and MVP of the 2011 finals, signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday.
“The ending is always hard,’’ Lynx General Manager and coach Cheryl Reeve said after the news broke Thursday. “But our appreciation of our time together — 14 years as a Lynx — that’s the overriding feeling. It’s just gratitude, for the thrills, just the way she impacted not just the franchise but the community. She deserves nothing but celebration of her time here.’’
Still, from afar, it appears a head-scratching decision to leave a team for its traditional archrival; the Sparks and Lynx have met in the playoffs six times, including the 2016 and 2017 finals.
The Lynx were interested in having Augustus back for her final season.
Augustus, who turns 36 in April, did not respond to a message left asking for comment. But she did make a lengthy post on her Instagram account (@moneymone33) that included a heartfelt thanks to members of the Lynx organization, fans and the entire state. It read in part: “Thank you Minnesota for shaping and molding me into the woman I am today. As tears flow, like the Mississippi River runs from the heart of Baton Rouge to the heart of Minneapolis, know that you will always be a part of me.”
Augustus, who made $111,000 last season in Minnesota, is a native of Baton Rouge, La.
It’s possible Augustus felt Los Angeles was a better spot to try for a fifth WNBA title in her final season. The Sparks have used the first free agency since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed — one that increased each team’s salary cap — to be aggressive.
They already had signed veteran guard Kristi Tolliver and now have four previous first-overall picks on their roster in Candace Parker, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Augustus. Augustus and Nneka Ogwumike are good friends, having been teammates in the Russian Premier League.
There is reason to wonder how much Augustus has left after knee pain and subsequent surgery limited her to 12 games and six starts last season. Her 13 minutes played per game, 3.8 points per game and .313 shooting percentage were all career lows.
But losing the face of the franchise in this manner is still a blow. Augustus is 11th in WNBA history with 5,881 points.
She’s also an eight-time All Star and was part of the four titles in seven years the Lynx began accumulating in 2011. Her departure means that none of the four core players who spanned all four titles — Augustus, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson — will play for the Lynx in 2020.
“We wish she was not leaving,’’ Reeve said. “But we’re happy if that’s what she wants at this time.’’
The Lynx, coming off consecutive 18-16 seasons, were in the running for free agents DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix) and Toliver (Washington), who might have come to Minnesota to play with Bonner. But the Mercury worked out a sign-and-trade deal with Connecticut, one that sent Bonner to the Sun with three first-round picks (the seventh and 10th this year and a first-rounder next year) to the Suns; the Lynx didn’t have the resources to match that deal. And then Toliver decided to sign with the Sparks.
The Lynx remain patient. There is a chance a deal might come together on or around draft day in April or at the trading deadline this summer. But for the first time in a decade and a half, they will play without Augustus.
“I would like to thank Seimone for all the great memories she provided us and our fans while she wore the Lynx uniform,’’ Lynx owner Glen Taylor said in a statement released by the team. “We wish her will in this next chapter of her career and we look forward to seeing her number in the rafters of Target Center in the future.’’