Can No. 1 help Lynx return to playoffs?
Hard to imagine Minnesota picking anyone other than UConn senior Maya Moore
A year ago, we were looking at a situation similar to the one we see right now: The Minnesota Lynx had won the lottery for the WNBA's No. 1 draft pick, and they also had the No. 4 selection.
Back then, the subsequent dissolution of the Sacramento franchise, which had gained the second pick, meant that Minnesota moved up to No. 3. And when Minnesota decided to bring Lindsay Whalen home, a key part of the deal with Connecticut was swapping the No. 1 pick for what had elevated to a No. 2 pick for the Sun.
So UConn star Tina Charles, the 2010 draft top selection, stayed in the Nutmeg State. A draft-day trade between the Sun and the Lynx sent Kelsey Griffin, whom Minnesota had picked at No. 3, to Connecticut for a 2011 first-round pick.
Got all that?
The thing that the Sun didn't count on was that they, too, would be in the lottery for '11 -- Connecticut was expecting to make the postseason this past summer.
As it turned out, that didn't sting the Sun as much as it might have. On Tuesday in the draft lottery, it was Minnesota's own ping-pong ball that came up as No. 1, rather than the Sun's ball, whose rights were owned by the Lynx.
But it all comes out in the wash like this: For the second consecutive year, the long-time-no-playoffs Lynx will spend the college season contemplating what they want to do with the No. 1 overall draft pick.
We assume we know: UConn sensation Maya Moore will head to Minnesota and add enough to the talent stockpile there to finally return the Lynx to the postseason for the first time since 2004.
"Well, we're going to keep our options open," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said in a teleconference Tuesday. "We're not afraid to make big trades."
OK seriously? Nah, probably not. Provided everyone stays healthy (crossing fingers), the Lynx are expected to include Moore in with what Reeve said was a "core group" that she hopes will bring success sooner rather than later to Minnesota.
After a disappointing 13-21 season this summer in which the Lynx had particular trouble closing out games and let some big leads get away, there was a lot of debriefing by Reeve and her staff.
The very good news Minnesota got Tuesday, when representatives from all the WNBA teams met in New York, isn't going to change whom the Lynx think comprises that core group.
In fact, when talking about it, Reeve sort of contradicted her opening default position of "all options open for the No. 1 pick."
"We will make a couple of transactions; there won't be a lot of them," she said. "The other thing we said as a team was we were not going to be relying on the draft to improve our team. We felt the core group that we had was going to be responsible for taking this franchise forward."
Which is fine to say until you actually win the No. 1 pick. Then, if a talent such as Moore is available -- which hasn't been the case in every draft, actually -- then you can start turning cartwheels. If Moore does indeed relocate to Minneapolis, she is going to be a ready-made starter as a rookie, just as Charles, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird were as top selections out of UConn.
Reeve seemed very confident going into last season, her first as Minnesota's head coach. But former top draft pick Seimone Augustus had some lingering health problems, Candice Wiggins ruptured her Achilles tendon, and the Lynx never really got into sync the way Reeve hoped.
There really isn't a lot to say about the need to avoid a similar disappointment in 2011.
"On paper, we're talented. I think learning to win together is the biggest thing in this league," Reeve said. "That's why we thought it was really important to keep a core group together that knows it's going to be on the court a lot together."
Minnesota's gain might not necessarily be a terrible loss for Tulsa, which had the league's worst record and the most chances to win the lottery. Instead, the Shock end up with the No. 2 pick, which could be Australia's promising youngster, Liz Cambage. At 6-foot-8, she impressed a lot of people with her play this summer/fall, including at the world championships.
Pokey Chatman, recently named coach/GM of the Chicago Sky, will have the No. 3 pick. And then Minnesota will go again at fourth, unless the Lynx do end up using that spot for a trade.
After Moore, the 2011 first round projects as being dominated by big post players more than guards, with 6-5 Amber Harris, 6-4 Kayla Pedersen and 6-4 Jantel Lavender all solid bets to go early.
"I don't know if we've seen that, in terms of the depth of the bigs," Reeve said in critiquing the draft. "I think that's what makes it an appealing draft, because we are always looking to bolster our front line. So it's a good draft from that perspective."
Actually, a lot looked good from the Lynx's perspective Tuesday. But the franchise has fallen short so often that being optimistic seems a little like "here-we-go-again," only for it to blow up.
But maybe not this time. Maybe this good fortune really will pay off for the Lynx.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.
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