Time is now for Lynx
Expectations high after key additions in trades and draft, plus Augustus' return
Cheryl Reeve isn't worried about keeping expectations in check. To the contrary, she wants the heat on the Lynx. Minnesota has not made the WNBA playoffs since 2004, and Reeve, the franchise's new head coach, is ready to change that.
Last year, Jennifer Gillom ran the show for Minnesota; now she's in Los Angeles. Reeve, former assistant to Bill Laimbeer and then Rick Mahorn in Detroit, is taking her shot at trying to make things work in Minnesota.
"There have been issues in the past with youth and other things," Reeve said. "But on paper, we're really good. Now we have to walk the walk."
Reeve and Lynx executive vice president Roger Griffith have been very busy getting ready for the 2010 season. In the WNBA draft Thursday, they picked Virginia guard Monica Wright and Nebraska forward Kelsey Griffin, then traded Griffin for picks in the first and second rounds in 2011.
Reeve had predicted last month that closer to draft day, the Lynx would probably get an offer for at least one of their picks that would catch their interest. But, she said, it would have to be "very compelling" for Minnesota to act on it.
Considering that the Lynx and Sun had already done a big swap this year -- the deal that sent point guard Lindsay Whalen back home to Minnesota and assured No. 1 pick Tina Charles would stay put in the state of Connecticut -- it wasn't too surprising that those two franchises decided to deal again.
Reeve and Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault both had talked during the college season about really liking what Griffin could bring to a team despite being undersized at the power forward spot. So she would have fit in with either the Sun or the Lynx. As it is, Griffin will go to Connecticut, where she'll team with Charles as the youngsters in the Sun's post game.
And Wright will become the latest scoring threat on a Minnesota team that already has some lethal ones.
"I'm excited to be able to elevate my game to their level," Wright said. "I can't wait to see how I will fit in with a team like that and what role I'll play."
Wright grew up in Virginia and stayed there for college. She said she has never been to Minneapolis. Although she wasn't too far away when the Cavaliers visited Ames, Iowa -- about three hours' drive south of the Twin Cities -- for the NCAA tournament last month.
We can flat-out score, and I'm excited about that. We will talk a lot about defense, too, but I want to continue the path of us being very hard to guard.” -- Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve
"About all I know is that the Mall of America is there," Wright said. "I'm fine with moving. Virginia has been my home for a long time, I'd like to get out and see new places."
For the Lynx, the time really is now. Six years after she was one of the biggest stories in the whole state, Whalen is back where she became a legend. Seimone Augustus, the No. 1 pick in 2006, is returning from an injury. Rebekkah Brunson came from the Sacramento Monarchs dispersal draft.
They'll join Nicky Anosike, Charde Houston and Candice Wiggins, the the trio that led the Lynx last year as each averaged around 13 points. Then you add in Wright, Virginia's all-time leading scorer.
"I would say the collection of personalities we had at the Shock were unique," Reeve said of how much her new team will resemble the old one. "The Minnesota Lynx will not look like what the Detroit Shock looked like. That's not a positive or a negative. I valued my time at Detroit. But I think Minnesota will be different from a scoring standpoint.
"We can flat-out score, and I'm excited about that. We will talk a lot about defense, too, but I want to continue the path of us being very hard to guard."
Wright's scoring isn't the only thing that impressed Reeve. Wright is a potential defensive gem, too, the type of player whose defense was very much a weapon she used in college. And that's something Reeve really wanted, too.
"Hopefully what you'll see from us this year is a bigger defensive presence," Reeve said. "A bigger commitment to that. I think you'll see a Lynx team with more of a swagger, that players understand this team is really good and there are no excuses."
Reeve said it wasn't hard at all for the Lynx to pull the trigger on the deal to bring Whalen back, even though that meant losing the top pick, Charles.
"Guards win, and Lindsay Whalen in particular is a winner," Reeve said. "That's a position that I think was an absolute must for us to move forward in. I love Tina Charles it was just a statement of how much we needed Lindsay Whalen."
Another player Reeve brought in was Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, who had spent six of her eight WNBA seasons with the now-defunct Monarchs.
"She has that defensive mentality from Sacramento," Reeve said. "I think she'll elevate Seimone's perimeter defense, and just help with our overall tone. I think Candice is going to be a better defender for us.
"For us to be one of the best teams in the West and try to win a championship, defense is one of the ways we can separate ourselves."
Reeve said that the playoffs have to become an expectation at Minnesota.
"The mentality that the playoffs are just a goal -- that's not something I welcome," Reeve said. "The goal needs to be to win a championship.
"I think it could be a very contagious situation. We want people to enjoy basketball here the way they did with the Gophers when Lindsay was there."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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