With veteran core and Maya Moore, Lynx know time to win titles is now
MINNEAPOLIS — It takes a unique development to make a player of Lindsay Whalen’s experience, in-the-now focus and repute to stop and reflect during the middle of practice. But Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve got her starting point guard good last week, briefly interrupting a training-camp session to point out reigning WNBA MVP Maya Moore is suddenly entering her fifth professional season.
Whalen, 33 and entering her 12th campaign, became used to the shy, cerebral, rookie Maya Moore who rarely spoke out of turn and mostly kept to herself. Now, Moore’s arguably the face of the sport, representing the Jordan brand and penning Players Tribune articles about how to best market women’s hoops.
"I couldn’t believe that when Coach said it," Whalen said Thursday at Minnesota’s media day, eight days before its season opener against Tulsa. "It feels like she was just a rookie."
Truth is, even the most dynastic of time periods seems to have faded too swiftly once it’s over. That’s the qualm of a competitor; desire and effort can produce satisfying fruit, but they also leave their executor inevitably coveting more.
Whalen knows this unquenchable paradox well. So does Moore, who’s won more championships at the collegiate, professional and international levels than she has fingers on which to count them.
And all around the new Courts at Mayo Clinic Square practice facility, they’re aware the getting’s only good for so long.
"We have goals that we want to accomplish before we take our shoes off and hang them up in our trophy cases," wing Seimone Augustus said.
Of the Lynx’s projected 2015 starting five, Moore, 25, is the only player under the age of 30. Together, she, Whalen, Augustus (31 years old), Rebekkah Brunson (33) and Asjha Jones (34) will vie for a fourth WNBA Finals appearance in five years and third championship during that span.
Starting off, they’re keenly aware such opportunities won’t last forever. No one’s letting them forget it.
"You get to about that 30 mark, and everybody asks you all the time, ‘What are you going to do next?’ and ‘What’s after basketball?’ and ‘When are you going to do this?’ and ‘When are you going to do that?’" said Whalen, the Hutchinson, Minn., native who once led the Golden Gophers to a Final Four before uniting with coach Cheryl Reeve and celebrating titles at the Target Center. "I’m just like, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m day-to-day, year-to-year like everybody is, you know? I’m honestly just having so much fun and just love coming to play basketball and love being around this team."
Said Augustus: "It’s like you hit the age of 30, everyone here is just like, ‘Retirement, retirement.’ And we understand. We just don’t know how long. It could go three, five (years) — you just don’t know how long. It just depends on your mental and physical state. But of course you always have that sense of urgency."
Last year’s loss to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals served further notice. Moore can still detail the final sequence like she’s breaking it down at a night-of, postgame press conference — how the Lynx, a year after sweeping their way through the postseason, missed their first 10 shots of the fourth quarter and were ultimately blown out in Game 3 against the eventual WNBA champions.
"Results are definitely something that you think about," Moore said. "We were a quarter away from changing our destiny there in those last 10 minutes, but just couldn’t get the ball in the hole and a combination of not stopping them from scoring for those 10 minutes was the difference.
"Clearly, we still remember. We haven’t forgotten that, and we’ll definitely use that as motivation for this upcoming season and another reminder of how hard it is to win.
"We make it look easy sometimes, but it’s extremely hard."
The same central group will go at it again this summer, minus estranged center Janel McCarville — who abruptly told the team she won’t be playing in the WNBA this season — and plus Jones, an 11-year veteran who hasn’t played a WNBA game since 2012.
Guard Monica Wright continues to lead a revamped second unit that features guard Anna Cruz and forwards Devereaux Peters, Damiris Dantas and Amber Harris, who played on the 2013 championship team but missed last season due to injuries.
They’ll be needed.
"Every year is a new grind for us older players, especially with playing year round, so continuing to develop the younger players to hopefully one day take my position or Whalen’s as we begin to make our transition away from basketball is going to be great," said Augustus, the 2011 WNBA Finals MVP. "That’s something that we pride ourselves on, as well, to be able to help keep the Lynx a very successful team, even when we aren’t here. I plan on being a season ticketholder and hopefully cheering in the stands and being proud of what they’re able to accomplish."
Even with defending-champ Phoenix star Diana Taurasi opting to skip this season and earn more money from her international team, the league’s overall depth makes a continued Lynx run even more taxing. Chicago’s geared up for another Finals run, and the overall talent pool is such that the WNBA should consider expanding beyond 12 teams, Reeve said.
"The gap certainly has closed, from a talent perspective," said Reeve, an assistant for the USA Basketball women’s team that will participate in next year’s Summer Olympics. "I think expansion is something that prior to maybe the evolution over the last few years of talent, that I don’t that we were ready for, but I think we’re ready for it now. I think we can field a couple other teams and still be a very quality league."
Reeve jokingly chided reporters Thursday for reminding her players of their relative old age, reminding the masses there’s plenty left in the tank. It’s not uncommon for WNBA players to compete well into their 30s — a trend that speaks to durability considering most of them spend their winters playing overseas, where they’re able to make more money than the WNBA currently offers.
"You’re as old as you feel," said Reeve, who took over the club five seasons ago, drafted Moore a year later and has overseen one of the best four-year runs in WNBA history, "and I think you guys have made them feel pretty damn old."
Shortly before Reeve addressed the media, one of the team’s brand-new, state-of-the-art, practice-gym backboards spontaneously shattered. Team officials weren’t sure as to the cause, but it served as a visual reminder that brand-spanking-new isn’t necessarily better.
The Lynx are happy to stick with tried, well-oiled, reliable and true — as long as they’re able.
"(Expectations) are very high," said Jones, acquired in a May 13 trade. "They have a track record, and they’re proven winners. Any time you’ve proven you can do it, you’re always hungry for more."
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter