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(Updated) 2021 WNBA Free Agency: Lynx level up by adding Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa

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The Minnesota Lynx entered the 2021 free agency period with plentiful cap space, and they have made the most of it, adding free agents Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa. What else might general manager-head coach Cheryl Reeve have in store?

Minnesota Lynx v Washington Mystics
Cheryl Reeve now will be watching Aerial Powers go to work while wearing Minnesota blue.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

At the close of the 2018 WNBA season, the active roster of the Minnesota Lynx included Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Heading into 2021 free agency, only Fowles remains.

And yet, general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve once again has the Lynx situated for championship contention. Reeve and the Lynx have added free agents Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa to a team that exceeded expectations last season.

In Fowles’ absence, Napheesa Collier blossomed into an All-WNBA talent while 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield proved she is the present and future point guard of the Lynx. Combined with Fowles, who was in MVP form before her calf injury stalled her 2020 season, they form a promising core.

Bringing in McBride, Powers and Achonwa bolsters this core, but also required the Lynx to relinquish players in order to create the needed roster spots.

First, Minnesota sent Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, the No. 6 selection in the 2020 draft, to the Seattle Storm in exchange for the Phoenix Mercury’s 2020 first-round draft pick. Next, the Lynx traded Odyssey Sims, the exclusive negotiating rights to reserved free agent Temi Fagbenle and their 2022 first- and third-round draft picks to the Indiana Fever. Moving Sims opened up a protected roster spot, which Minnesota used to officially sign Powers.

In early January, the Lynx signed reserved free agent Bridget Carleton to a training camp contract. They recently added Linnae Harper on a training camp contract. Minnesota will return Damiris Dantas, Lexie Brown and Rachel Banham to round out a strong supporting cast for 2021. A second-round draft pick from 2019, Jessica Shepard also could re-emerge as a contributor. Having torn her ACL six games into the 2019 season, she opted out of the 2020 season to continue her rehab.

By making the most of the cap space with which they entered the 2021 free agency period, the Lynx’s 2021 prospects have gotten even brighter.


By the numbers*

2021 Free Agents (type) (average salary):

  • Kayla Alexander (unrestricted) ($68,000)
  • Shenise Johnson (unrestricted) ($105,000)
  • Erica McCall (restricted) ($68,000)
  • Maya Moore (suspended-contract expired) ($117,000)
  • Cecilia Zandalasini (suspended-contract expired) ($41,202)

Team figures:

  • Total average salary of free agents: $399,202
  • Total team salary (not including above players): $945,000
  • Cap space (not counting new contracts): $393,435

Analysis

WNBA: JUNE 25 Minnesota Lynx at Indiana Fever
New teammates Natalie Achonwa and Sylvia Fowles battle for a board during the 2019 season.
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By agreeing to contracts with Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa, the Lynx had to make additional roster moves. We previously reported:

Assuming they intend to retain Carleton, who signed a training camp contract, and Shepard, who is the only other player on an unprotected contract who conceivably could be cut, the Lynx enter the free agency period with two open roster spots.

As noted above, Minnesota found new homes for Herbert Harrigan and Sims in order to add McBride, Powers and Achonwa. McBride and Powers signed identical three-year contracts, starting at the veteran maximum of $190,550 in 2021. Achonwa signed a three-year deal that de-escalates after beginning at $164,500 in 2021.

Because of Reeve’s success in luring three free agents to the Land of Lakes, their salary situation is more constrained than we imagined:

Even accounting for the salary that will be allocated to the player they select with the No. 9 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, Minnesota will have close to $330,000 in available cap space. This means Cheryl Reeve can go big game hunting, offering a maximum contract to an elite unrestricted free agent in order to entice her away from her current team.

The pie-in-the-sky scenarios we concocted also did not come true:

If Maya Moore decides to return to the WNBA, one of those spots, and a maximum contract, would belong to her — without hesitation! However, as there have been no hints about the happily-married Moore returning to the WNBA, the Lynx are unlikely to prioritize any of their current free agents.

The spiciest option would be Chelsea Gray. Could Reeve add another twist to the Sparks-Lynx rivalry by bringing the Point Gawd, an unrestricted free agent, to the Land of Lakes? Gray and Dangerfield would be a potent backcourt pairing, as both can operate effectively on or off the ball. With her sturdier frame, Gray would both complement and compensate for the undersized Dangerfield.

Yet, we did suggest that McBride and Powers could be good fits for Minnesota:

Other interesting free agent targets might include Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers. Both unrestricted free agents have skill sets that would augment any team, including the Lynx. McBride can provide elite shotmaking and reliable defense while Powers offers incessant energy and improving offensive creation.

Reeve said of McBride, “You win with good people. For us, the perfect world of having Kayla McBride having the complete package and being available at this time.” McBride expressed excitement about joining a gritty group, emphasizing:

They play with kind of a chip on their shoulder. I feel like that kind of stuck out to me because I’ve kind of hung my hat on my entire career, that chip on my shoulder and playing with that competitive edge. It was just something that I wanted to be a part of, and I’m here to add to the players that are around us.

Of Powers, Reeve enthused, “Aerial Powers is an exciting young player with endless potential. She plays with a great deal of passion, is a dynamic scorer, and defends at a high level.”

Adding Achonwa enhances the Lynx’s frontcourt rotation, allowing Fowles’ minutes to be judiciously managed. Reeve also complimented Achonwa’s willingness to do the little things, noting:

It’s all about easy baskets. We have a person like Natalie who understands sometimes the MVP of a possession is keeping the ball moving or setting a great screen so you have enough time to do what you need to do to get a quality shot.

Achonwa seconded Reeve’s assessment, saying:

I’ve always been a player that likes to be involved, but doesn’t have to finish the play, doesn’t have to start the play. Whether that’s with an assist, a pass — I love screen assists. I love screening to get a great shot open. Some of it you might not see on the stat sheet or come up in the assist column, but I will really work to get the shots that are best for our offense.

This trio of new additions must be exciting for Minnesota fans, as Reeve and the Lynx had only made minor moves during the past few free agency periods. As we wrote:

Of course, when it comes to roster changes, Reeve always seems to surprise, suggesting an unexpected move or two may be in order for Minnesota. Amidst last year’s free agency frenzy, the Lynx were relatively quiet, only making moves on the margins. This could again be the template for Minnesota. For instance, they could choose to bring back restricted free agent Erica McCall, who gave the Lynx good minutes as a bubble-addition last season. The oft-injured but experienced Shenise Johnson, who Minnesota traded for last offseason, also could return at a lower salary.

Instead of standing pat, Reeve made moves that can substantially increase the Lynx’s championship upside. Thus far, our previous proclamation is proving accurate:

In short, the Lynx have lots of options and Cheryl Reeve is in charge — a great combination for successfully navigating 2021 free agency!


This story was updated to reflect Kayla McBride’s free agency move from the Las Vegas Aces to the Minnesota Lynx, Aerial Powers’s free agency move from the Washington Mystics to the Minnesota Lynx, Natalie Achonwa’s free agency move from the Indiana Fever to the Minnesota Lynx, the trade of Mikiah Herbert Harrigan to the Seattle Storm and the trade of Odyssey Sims and other assets to the Indiana Fever.

*All WNBA salary information courtesy of Her Hoop Stats and Spotrac and is current as of Feb. 15, 2021.