MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — This five-woman core has done almost everything there is to do in Minnesota.
Coach Cheryl Reeve, forwards Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson and guards Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen have delivered three championships in the last five years for the Lynx, essentially building the once-irrelevant franchise from scratch and establishing the closest thing to a dynasty the WNBA has seen in the last 15 years.
As they embark on another season that begins with a target on their chests, there remains one more mountain to climb.
“I’m not going to shy away from the idea that this group deserves to have on their resume, their legacy, that we were repeat champions,” Reeve said. “They deserve to have that. So I’m not going to shy away from that publicly and I’m not going to shy away from that internally. It’s something that we’re going to go after with everything we have.”
No team has repeated in the WNBA since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2002.
The Lynx have won titles in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the last punctuated with a joyous postgame concert from Prince, a night that holds even more significance to the franchise after the music icon died suddenly a few weeks ago.
Each time the Lynx have tried to repeat, they’ve come up just short. They were heavy favorites against Indiana in the 2012 WNBA Finals but lost. In 2014, the Phoenix Mercury juggernaut snapped Minnesota’s string of three straight finals appearances.
“Hopefully,” Reeve said, “the third time’s the charm.”
With Brunson, Augustus and Whalen all 32 or older, the Lynx have pushed all their chips into the middle of the table. Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles and backup guard Renee Montgomery are back for full seasons after being acquired in trades during the year last year, they added 12-year veteran and former All-Star Jia Perkins to the backcourt and center Janel McCarville could return in a backup role after sitting out last season.
And Whalen, who struggled with several leg injuries at the end of last season, passed up several lucrative offers from overseas to stay home and let her body and mind recover in order to be ready for a run at another title.
“We have such a unique opportunity to have a third chance at trying to expand our history,” Moore said. “That’s an easy sense of urgency that will be added to the motivation we already have this year for taking advantage of not only what we did last year but what we have again this year to do something we haven’t done in our history books.”
A powerful post presence, Fowles changed the way the Lynx attacked defenses last season, but it took until Game 5 of the finals before everyone felt comfortable with the adjustments. Getting a training camp under her belt should only help that process, and allow Reeve to not have to rely so heavily on Moore and Augustus for offense.
Four of the Lynx players — Moore, Augustus, Fowles and Whalen — will be playing on the Olympic team in Rio in August, which increases Reeve’s desire to limit their minutes as much as possible early in the season. The ability to keep them fresh for the stretch run could make all the difference in their quest to repeat.
“It’s tough,” Whalen said of the prospects of repeating. “It hasn’t been done for a lot of years. It’s a big challenge. That’s our focus and what we’re working toward.”
Another obstacle in their way: Diana Taurasi. The Phoenix Mercury star did not play in the WNBA last season at the behest of her Russian team, but she is back this season to team with Brittney Griner in one of the WNBA’s most formidable tandems.
If the Lynx are able to finally check that box, to become the first team in 14 years to repeat, Reeve isn’t ready to say that will be the crowning achievement.
“Last season we won a championship and we never became the team we wanted to become,” Reeve said. “This group is always chasing what they believe is their best. I think if we ever hit that, then I can say that was the last mountain to climb. As long as it takes. They could put it all together and say, ‘Coach this is the best we could do.’
“I’d be surprised because this is a greedy group.”