The four-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx are trying to reverse course following a tumultuous 0-3 start and a host of roster turnover to kick off the 2022 season.
After parting ways with veterans Angel McCoughtry and Odyssey Sims earlier this week, Minnesota signed a pair of former UConn stars Friday in Moriah Jefferson, who was recently waived by Dallas, and Evina Westbrook, who was drafted by the Seattle Storm last month before being waived prior to opening day. The Lynx also brought back three players -- Yvonne Turner, Nikolina Milić and Hannah Sjerven -- on hardship contracts.
Despite the rocky start, Minnesota is hoping to extend its playoff appearance streak to 12 consecutive years and send out future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles on a high note in the final season of her storied WNBA career. The Lynx also had a tough start last season, beginning 0-4 before rebounding to finish 22-10 and secure a 3-seed in the playoffs.
"We'll do what we have to do to get where we want to go, because there's only one path," Lynx general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve told media Friday before facing the defending champion Chicago Sky on Saturday. "And that path is to be able to be difficult to play against from a physical standpoint and mental standpoint, your defense, your connection on offense."
Minnesota was dealt a tough hand to start the summer, with Damiris Dantas a couple of weeks away from making her return following a Lisfranc injury she suffered last season, Kayla McBride still playing overseas and Natalie Achonwa out indefinitely due to a right hamstring strain.
Future franchise cornerstone Napheesa Collier, who recently signed a multiyear contract extension with the organization, has also yet to suit up as she is set to give birth this month. Collier has said she hopes to take the court this season.
Then came the slew of cuts last week, including of 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield, 2021 draft pick Rennia Davis and veteran point guard Layshia Clarendon, whose insertion into the lineup last year was widely credited for helping turn the team's season around. Less than 10 days later, McCoughtry, whom the Lynx signed to a one-year deal this past offseason, and Sims, whom they signed just last week, were gone, too.
Asked if she wishes she had done anything differently, Reeve responded, "I'd have healthy players. We're just responding to the situations that have arisen."
After being sidelined two of the past four WNBA seasons due to injuries, including 2021 with ACL and meniscus tears, McCoughtry missed the Lynx's opener after receiving a PRP injection in her knee and later played a combined 20 minutes across their last two games. Reeve attributed the organization's decision to move on from McCoughtry to her health.
"I very much wanted to see a different outcome but it's beyond our control. I know Angel knows that," Reeve said. "It's nothing that she did. It's more she just didn't quite feel 100% and wants to take some time to get some more strengthening, that sort of thing, and then see what she can do as far as maybe joining a team at a different time."
In a statement provided by the team, McCoughtry said, "Although the organization has been very patient with my injury and helping me heal my body, sometimes it's about what fits best for both parties. I believe in myself and I know I will be all the way back to perform at the highest level."
Reuniting with the franchise she'd played for in 2019 and 2020, Sims appeared in two games for the Lynx but was not with the team for the Tuesday matchup because of a personal matter, Reeve said at the time. The coach said Friday that waiving Sims was to "give her the time to [address] that."
Reeve also attributed the decision to cut Clarendon to their lack of readiness from a physical standpoint following their injury woes last season. Clarendon, who had re-signed with Minnesota this offseason, tweeted in response earlier this month, "I am 100% cleared to play and practice. I'm feeling strong and ready to play!"
I've gotten a few media requests for comments on being waived and my injury. I have no comments other than I am 100% cleared to play and practice. I'm feeling strong and ready to play!— Layshia Clarendon (@Layshiac) May 4, 2022
The issues in Minneapolis, though, haven't all been injury-related. Reeve called out her starters for "selfishness" in how they played following their final preseason game. Earlier this week when asked about McCoughtry's lack of playing time, Reeve included in her response that "no one's entitled to a starting job ... the group that was out there [was not] playing the way that we want a Lynx team to play in terms of their effort and connectedness."
"Unfortunately, you don't want to be coaching effort and toughness," Reeve said Friday. "Those are things that you want your players to bring every time they play and I haven't held them accountable enough prior to yesterday, and so now we're in a space where we're holding people accountable. If we keep asking you to do it over and over again, we'll start to make the assumption that you can't do it, and that leads to a different decision, either not playing or not being on the team."
The coach said Jefferson and Westbrook "walk[ed] into a firestorm" in their first day of Lynx practice Thursday, but that Jefferson, who will start Saturday against Chicago, looked "fairly comfortable. ... I thought she handled it well."
After dealing with knee injuries most of her WNBA career, Jefferson played just four minutes in the Wings' only game of the season so far. The four-time national champion at UConn compiled just one fully healthy season in Dallas, averaging 5.4 points, 2.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game.
The Lynx have had a fairly fluid situation at point guard since the retirement of all-time great Lindsay Whalen following the 2018 season, but hope that Jefferson can provide some much-needed steadiness at least in the short-term.
"We're looking for leadership, someone to not only be able to organize, but have the sense to understand what you're running, why you're running it," Reeve said. "It may take a little bit of time in terms of the nuances, but in terms of just management of the floor, that's something we feel like Moriah can do."