Unless you have a rooting interest to the contrary, savor what the Minnesota Lynx are doing while you can.
After sweeping the Phoenix Mercury Sunday to reach the WNBA finals, the defending league champions have a week to rest and prepare for either the Los Angeles Sparks or Chicago Sky, who play Game 4 of their semifinal series Tuesday.
Should they repeat, the Lynx will have won four titles in six seasons (they also reached the finals in 2012, falling to the Indiana Fever). The Houston Comets, who won the first four WNBA titles, haven’t been eclipsed, but that mark is in jeopardy. Minnesota posted its best-ever regular season record of 28-6 and could be the first team to defend its title since the Sparks in 2001-02.
The Lynx, boasting four players from the U.S. Olympic gold medal team, are like a vintage wine that’s aged to near-perfection. With a veteran roster that includes only four players under the age of 30 (Maya Moore being one of them), Minnesota features the ideal mix of experience and youth, depth, consistency and tenacity.
As the WNBA marks the culmination of its 20th season, it’s fair to consider Minnesota as the closest thing to a dynasty since those heady years in Houston.
Several other teams have made a run at the high bar set by the now-defunct Comets, and their Hall of Fame trio of coach Van Chancellor, Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, and Tina Thompson, the WNBA’s career scoring leader also destined for Springfield.
The Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings) won championships in 2003, 2006 and 2008 under Bill Laimbeer and Katie Smith, currently his assistant with the New York Liberty, and the recently retired Swin Cash. The Mercury’s trifecta of titles came in 2007, 2009 and 2014, with Diana Taurasi the locus of teams led by different coaches each time.
It’s how the Lynx have developed sustained excellence that’s remarkable, especially in a league with a compact summer schedule and constant player turnover due to free agency. Under fiery coach Cheryl Reeve, a former Shock assistant under Laimbeer who arrived in 2010,
How Minnesota stays on top is what is most impressive.
Talent matters, of course, and after spending their first decade mired in mediocrity, the Lynx emerged as a competitive force with the aid of lottery picks. They drafted Seimone Augustus (2006) and Maya Moore (2011) and used another in trading for former University of Minnesota icon Lindsay Whalen.
During last season, Reeve shipped the Lynx’s first round 2016 pick to Atlanta in a three-way trade that netted center Sylvia Fowles, who wanted out of Chicago. Guard Renee Montgomery, part of the Whalen trade, was re-acquired and plays a leading role for Minnesota’s solid reserve corps.
That group includes two newcomers this season, veteran guard Jia Perkins, dealt from San Antonio, and young forward Natasha Howard, acquired in a trade from Indiana, who came up big in Phoenix Sunday.
Minnesota’s nucleus, despite its advancing age, might be around for a little while longer. Augustus, who is 32, and the 34-year-old Whalen, who opted not to go overseas last winter, both signed contract extensions before the playoffs.
Fowles is 30, and Moore is 27. With the exception of second-year pro Howard, the bench is a bit long in the tooth. Reeve has been shrewd in making moves to bolster her roster and undoubtedly will have to do so again over the winter.
For the moment, and with the WNBA finals still to come, there’s still the opportunity to appreciate what the Lynx are attempting to accomplish, and the way they’ve gone about doing it.