Feat to repeat: Lynx set sights on back-to-back titles
By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Believe it or not, there is still another feat left for the Minnesota Lynx to accomplish once the season begins next weekend.
With four of the last seven WNBA championships, the Lynx are well-established as one of the league’s few true dynasties. Their starting five has combined for 25 appearances in the All-Star game, a total limited by the event’s absence during Olympic years. They’ve got gold medals and individual awards galore.
The Lynx, though, can become the only WNBA franchise with five titles if they’re able to repeat in 2018. Being sized for rings in back-to-back seasons, well, there’s another box left unchecked. They’ve only won championships in odd-numbered years, as if that were an actual knock against them.
“It’s one of the motivating factors in the offseason as you’re getting ready,” point guard Lindsay Whalen said, “but when the team is in here we’re not really talking about it every day. I think we feel so solid in what we’ve done — of course we want to win and we want to repeat — that it’s not something we’re stressed on. That would be amazing and, really, like icing on the cake.”
Five-time All-WNBA forward Maya Moore, who turns 29 next month, is still the baby of the bunch. Whalen and power forward Rebekkah Brunson are 36, meaning they’ve each won three titles in their 30s. Shooting guard Seimone Augustus, who’s 34, and center Sylvia Fowles, who’s 32, have won two championships since turning 30.
So much for supposedly being passed their prime. These Lynx have become a bit like the middle school whiz kid with straight As who finishes the science test early and starts asking for extra credit assignments. They’re the only franchise in the league’s 21 years with six appearances in the finals. The now-defunct Houston Comets are the only other team that won four titles, all coming in the WNBA’s first four seasons. The Los Angeles Sparks are the last team to repeat, in 2001 and 2002.
No wonder Minnesota is such a popular place to be.
The Lynx signed defensive stalwart Tanisha Wright out of semi-retirement, traded for three-time All-Star point guard Danielle Robinson and added six-year veteran Lynetta Kizer for depth in the post in an offseason overhaul of the bench. Fowles pushed for a trade to Minnesota in 2015, setting the table for the third of these four titles under head coach Cheryl Reeve, who was given the dual role of general manager over the winter.
“The players want to come play with these players, because these are some of the most humble superstars our league has ever seen,” Reeve said, before adding a quip about the team’s sparkling practice facility shared with the NBA’s Timberwolves: “What a beautiful retirement home we have here. You have your chef in the back. You’ve got your cold tubs. You’ve got all this amazing stuff. I hope we can continue our trend of sending veterans out winners.”
Whalen also recently started wearing another hat, too, as the head coach of the University of Minnesota team she once starred for. She rises early to check emails, heads to the arena by mid-morning for practice and then treks 3 miles to campus by mid-afternoon for administrative responsibilities and strategic planning.
“It’s been kind of a new fun busy for me,” Whalen said.
For Fowles, the 2017 Most Valuable Player, the new challenge will be maintaining that performance. She got used to that long ago, though, while growing up in Miami.
“Only because I had brothers,” she said. “You’ve got older brothers and you’re the youngest, you kind of look forward to these things. I’m looking forward to the challenges. I’d like to see people change it up to try to guard me. It’s been pretty interesting thus far. So who knows what’s going to happen?”
Fowles is the only part of the core not around in 2011 or 2013 when the Lynx won their first two titles, but the makeup of the bench has changed often. This year, having Robinson and Wright to back up Whalen and Augustus should be a big boost, particularly defensively.
Robinson, who averaged a career-low 6.9 points per game for the Phoenix Mercury last season after missing all of 2016 with an Achilles injury, was elated by the move even though it came with a lessened role. She’s still one of the fastest players in the league. Her nickname is “Lightning,” and Fowles dubbed herself “Thunder.”
“They just welcomed me with open arms, every single person in here, even down to our chefs,” Robinson said. “So it’s just amazing. There’s no better place to be right now.”
The regular-season opener is at home on May 20 against the Sparks in a rematch of last year’s finals.