It can be amusing when coaches are miked up and we hear some of their sideline chatter and griping. But Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus thinks fans would really be amused if she and center Sylvia Fowles wore microphones during a game.
"We go at it," said Augustus, laughing. "But it's mostly constructive criticism. Although it sounds kind of like sisters bickering: 'Get your [butt] over there!' But it works, and it's been like this since LSU."
The Minnesota franchise is about to start its 20th-anniversary season -- the Lynx open May 20 against the Sparks -- after a particularly satisfying championship last year. Down 2-1 to Los Angeles for the second WNBA Finals in a row, Minnesota avoided its 2016 fate, winning Games 4 and 5 and joining Houston as the only WNBA franchises with four titles.
Fowles was MVP for the season and in the WNBA Finals, grabbing a combined 34 rebounds in the last two Finals games alone. A picture of consistent dominance, she averaged 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds in the 2017 regular season, and 18.6 and 13.1 in Minnesota's eight playoff games.
"If she does exactly the same as she did last year, I'll be a happy camper," said coach Cheryl Reeve, grinning. "But it's really hard to do. With Syl, she can't control anything regarding MVP voting, and I don't even want her to think about that.
"She has to understand how teams are going to guard her; they're going to try to come at her a little differently. She has to continue to be poised and to grow as a player."
Fowles, 32, played during the winter in China again, her third season there.
"I felt good; I didn't have any health issues. But I definitely was ready to get back to Minnesota," Fowles said. "My biggest thing is, how can I capitalize on last year? Basically, to not take a step backwards. I don't dwell on it too much, though. My coaches do a really good job of putting me in places to get the ball. It's up to me to just continue to be dominant, be smart and finish at the rim."
Augustus, who just turned 34 in April, had arthroscopic surgery to "clean up some loose particles" in her knee during the winter. She didn't play overseas; at this point in her career, she finds the thought of doing that not very appealing.
"As you get older, you realize this is time you can't get back," Augustus said. "And as you're trying to transition into life after basketball, you want that time. It's about enjoying your family more, and just enjoying the fruits of your labor. I've made pretty good money overseas for a lot of years, so I can comfortably relax more."
Point guard Lindsay Whalen didn't go overseas, either, but she made a big move toward transitioning to her post-playing life by accepting the women's hoops head coaching job at Minnesota, her alma mater. Whalen will still play this WNBA season, rejoining fellow starters Augustus, Fowles, Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson.
But they'll have some different players coming off the bench, including veteran guards Tanisha Wright and Danielle Robinson, and post player Lynetta Kizer.
"I don't worry about chemistry," Reeve said in regard to the changes. "When you have good people, chemistry comes."
Augustus, the longest-tenured Lynx player going back to her selection as the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, leads the way. Fowles came to the Lynx midway through the 2015 season in a trade from Chicago. And last season might have been the best collaboration ever between Augustus and Fowles, even going back to when they were teammates for two seasons at LSU from 2004-06.
"Seimone had such an interesting season last year, with a career high in assists," Reeve said of Augustus' 127 regular-season dishes (4.0 per game). "We went full-go into getting Syl the basketball and increasing the pressure inside. Seimone was in the lead of that; she totally embraced it. She finds Syl in ways that gives her the best opportunity.
"And Seimone realized she didn't have to take the ball inside herself as much anymore. She shot the 3 well. And she was my most solid defender on the perimeter. With age, your intelligence grows -- you understand where you need to be and why."
Augustus, who averaged a career-low 10.9 PPG during the regular season, wasn't worried about the drop in her scoring (it went up to 13.9 in the playoffs). She focused on the things Reeve wanted from her, knowing that was the path to a championship.
Augustus is one of the biggest WNBA success stories in terms of being a great player who made some significant changes in her game for the good of the franchise. Augustus could have balked at how much of the offense began to go through then-rookie Moore in 2011 but instead embraced that. And when Fowles came to the Lynx, and the offense began to focus on her, Augustus was fully on board too.
"We have a special relationship. We can fuss at each other and get on each other's nerves, but we don't take it personally ... there's no real static between us." Sylvia Fowles on her friendship with Seimone Augustus
"The way that our offense was structured last year, I had to be a great passer," Augustus said. "And I was going to be passing to Syl more times than not, so I wanted to make sure I put her in the best position: to be able to catch and go instead of having to catch, make a move and deal with the double team or trap.
"I've taken that defensive role since 2011. Even with me getting up in age, I still want to do what the team needs. And I can create some havoc on the defensive end, because I know I have Sylvia Fowles standing behind me protecting the rim. That's pretty comforting to know."
Through everything, Fowles and Augustus joke -- or maybe it's not entirely a joke -- that they still quite effectively bug each other after all these years, which has served them and the Lynx well.
"It's actually good, because we have a special relationship," Fowles said. "We can fuss at each other and get on each other's nerves, but we don't take it personally. That's what's helped us this far: We can get on each other, but there's no real static between us."