Last night against bitter rival LA Sparks, the final buzzer sounded on the Minnesota Lynx’s season and Lindsay Whalen’s WNBA career. The one-and-done first-round elimination setup is brutal by any standard of competition, but especially so for the Lynx, who had appeared in the WNBA Finals in the past three seasons, winning the championship in two of those seasons — over the Fever in 2015 and over the Sparks in 2017. (LA won it in 2016.)
But Minnesota’s quest for dynastic greatness goes back even farther.
In 2009, the Lynx, coached by Jennifer Gillom, went 14-20 on the season and did not make the playoffs. Seimone Augustus is the only current Lynx player on that team, and Renee Montgomery (now with the Atlanta Dream) and LaToya Sanders (now with the Washington Mystics) are the only other players from the squad who are still in the league.
Cheryl Reeve was brought in as head coach in 2010, and the Lynx began building a championship-contending roster by signing Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson. The Lynx went 13-21 that year and did not make the playoffs.
And then everything changed.
Minnesota at the mountaintop
Maya Moore, a UConn Husky, was selected first overall by the Minnesota Lynx at the 2011 WNBA Draft. The Lynx finished that season first in the Western Conference with a 27-7 record and swept the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA Finals for the team’s first WNBA Championship.
The Lynx finished with another 27-7 record that season but lost to the Indiana Fever (3-1) in the 2012 WNBA Finals.
In 2013, the Lynx finished the regular season with a 26-8 record and went on to win it all by sweeping the Dream in that year’s Finals.
The Lynx went 25-9 in the 2014 season and lost in the Western Conference Finals (2-1) to the Phoenix Mercury.
Minnesota went 22-12 in 2015 and beat the Fever (3-2) in the 2015 WNBA Finals.
In 2016, the Lynx tightened things up to finish the regular season with a 28-6 record. However, they were defeated by the Sparks (3-2) in the Finals.
In 2017, the Lynx had a 27-7 regular-season record and earned another championship trophy by defeating the Sparks 3-2 in the Finals.
But changes for this team were apparent from the start of the 2018 season, mainly due to age (Whalen, Augustus, Brunson), overseas playing commitments (Moore won the EuroLeague championship with UMMC Ekaterinburg and joined the team late) and new commitments (Whalen is the head coach at the University of Minnesota).
The Lynx started the season slow, were defeated by unsuspecting teams early on and struggled to keep up, in a perfect collision of team challenges colliding with external forces: an influx of dominant youthful players into the league during rebuilding efforts by rival teams, with the biggest example being the Atlanta Dream.
The Lynx won championships in 2011 and 2013 by defeating the Dream in the WNBA Finals, but this season was different:
- The Dream bested the Minnesota Lynx 2-1 in the 2018 season series.
- Minnesota finished the regular season in seventh place, with an 18-16 record, while Atlanta finished second in the league with 23 wins and 11 losses and second-round bye in the playoffs.
The changing of the guard isn’t underway in the WNBA; it has already happened. As with life in general, all good things come to an end but, thankfully, all bad things come to an end as well. The task for the Lynx, therefore, will be to infuse its aging roster with new blood.
To “Spark” Minnesota’s engine, spry, young talented is needed
Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson have not indicated a desire to retire any time soon, so it will be interesting to see what choices the Lynx organization make to acquire new talent and accommodate aging stars.
Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, who was traded to Minnesota after her then-Chicago Sky team was swept in the 2014 WNBA Finals by the Phoenix Mercury, still have a lot left in the tank, with Fowles completing the 2018 regular season at the top of the league in rebounding. But several years of year-round basketball take a toll on any player and some young, spry talent is needed to reignite — nay, “Spark” — Minnesota’s engine again.
With Whalen out, shoring up the point guard position with a player who can set the pace, create scoring opportunities and also shoot the ball will be of utmost importance. No player can truly fill Whalen’s shoes, but these are the minimum skill requirements for a point guard on an elite team of veteran talent.
Head Coach Cheryl Reeve has done it before — bolstered an under-performing team with key pieces that turned a team’s fortunes around with unmatched speed — and she can do it again. But last night’s loss, coupled with Whalen’s retirement, put an end to one of the most exciting runs in basketball history. A new WNBA era is upon us. But that doesn’t mean the Lynx won’t soon enough be right back in the mix.
AP postseason awards
A compressed WNBA season means announcements come at a dizzying clip. The Associated Press postseason awards were announced yesterday, and the winners are:
- Player of the Year: Breanna Stewart
- Coach of the Year: Nicki Collen
- Rookie of the Year: A’ja Wilson
- Sixth Person of the Year: Jonquel Jones
- Defensive Player of the Year: Sylvia Fowles
- Most Improved: Natasha Howard
- Comeback Player: DeWanna Bonner
Stewart earned 12-of-14 votes for the coveted Player of the Year trophy, with two votes going to Liz Cambage.
And the All-WNBA Team and Rookie Team selections are as follows:
- First Team All-WNBA: Breanna Stewart, Liz Cambage, Elena Delle Donne, Diana Taurasi, Tiffany Hayes
- Second Team All-WNBA: Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith
- Rookie Team: A’ja Wilson, Azura Stevens, Kia Nurse, Kelsey Mitchell, Ariel Atkins, Diamond DeShields
Next up on the court ...
The 2018 WNBA Playoffs proceed to Round 2 on Thursday, August 23, with the LA Sparks battling the Mystics in Washington and the Phoenix Mercury battling the Sun in Connecticut. Action begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Stay tuned for previews and other playoffs coverage!
Drink up, link lush!
Isabelle Harrison sat out the exciting inaugural season of the Aces in Las Vegas, for “personal reasons.” Well, now those reasons have been revealed:
Good Morning!! So happy to have passed all my classes and receiving my MASTERS!— Isabelle Harrison (@OMG_itsizzyb) August 21, 2018
- Taj McWilliams-Franklin, from suicidal teen mother to Interim Head Coach of the Dallas Wings. Although the Wings’ season ended last night, McWilliams-Franklin should always be proud of what she has overcome, which is outlined in this exquisite profile by Mechelle Voepel.
- Matt Ellentuck ranks the six remaining playoff teams.
- The 2018 WNBA Draft Lottery will take place on August 28 during halftime of the Atlanta Dream’s semifinal game against a presently unknown opponent.
- If a team is down in the playoffs, Three-Point Contest champion Allie Quigley knows which players can shoot their teams out of a bind. Here are her best seven shooters.
- Skylar Diggins-Smith sounded off in Wealth Simple about how ESPN’s refusal to cover the WNBA as equitably as it does other sports impacts the bottom line. ESPN, however, through official statements and negligence, has shown it doesn’t care. So, what would compel the network to end its campaign of discrimination against WNBA players? Would a player, or group of players, have grounds to sue the network?
How to #WatchThemWork during the 2018 WNBA Playoffs
Shine brighter. * flicker flicker *