The Offseason Got More Interesting for the Minnesota Lynx

After the 2020 Wubble season concluded, the Minnesota Lynx had one of their busiest offseasons in recent memory. In preparation for the 2021 WNBA season, the Lynx went into the free agent market and signed a trio of players to add to a suddenly new-look squad. With a large amount of cap space available, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve dove into free agency to sign Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Aerial Powers to add to a roster headlined by Napheesa Collier, Sylvia Fowles and company, who were coming off of a trip to the semifinal round of the playoffs in 2020.

That unit completed the 2021 campaign by securing the third seed in the postseason. However, Minnesota ended its season earlier than desired as the Lynx fell in the single-elimination second round to the eventual league champions, the Chicago Sky.

With the offseason leading up to the 2022 season upon us, the Lynx were initially viewed as a team that wouldn’t be as aggressive throughout the offseason compared to last year. Reeve even noted at the end of the 2021 year that the team’s salary cap situation hinders their ability to replicate those types of additions this year.

But in the two months since the end of the 2021 season, a few things have come to light surrounding some key players that could make the offseason a bit more interesting for the Lynx as they head into 2022. 

 

Sylvia Fowles

After starting her WNBA career in Chicago, Sylvia Fowles arrived in Minnesota in 2015 and has been a staple for the Lynx ever since, playing a key part in multiple championship runs. In her 14th season in 2021, that was once again the case as Fowles put together another All-Star year that resulted in her winning the Defensive Player of the Year award to add to her Hall of Fame resume. 

Coming off of a year like she had in 2021, you might think that Fowles would be chomping at the bit to return to the floor for year 15 to continue to dominate in the paint for Minnesota and try to make a deeper run in the postseason. But that might not be the case for Fowles, who said entering the offseason that she isn’t sure if she will return in 2022 or not.

Fowles, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, told the media at the end of the season that she doesn’t know if she will return to the court this year or if she will start to focus on life away from basketball. Fowles, who turned 36 years old in October, said she has thought about eventually starting a family and further pursuing a career in mortuary science.

“My future is still un-bright at the moment. We still have some things to talk about, Cheryl and I. I’m unsure at the moment,” Fowles said of her future. “We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted in the next couple of months.”

If Fowles decides she would like to return for her 15th season, she would obviously have to work on re-signing with the Lynx or sign elsewhere, but it would be a surprise for Fowles to pursue the latter option. If she did retire and step away from the game for good, that would leave a big hole on Minnesota’s roster and put the team in a spot to try and find a replacement this offseason.

One of the biggest question marks for the Lynx is whether or not a cornerstone of the team will return next season, which is something that should become clearer in the coming months. But Fowles’ status isn’t the only thing up in the air for Minnesota at the moment.

 

Napheesa Collier 

Since breaking into the WNBA in 2019 and taking the league by storm with the Lynx, Collier has already become one of the most important players on Minnesota’s roster and one of the faces of the WNBA.

Set to enter her fourth season with the Lynx in 2022 after making an Olympic appearance in 2021, Collier might not be on the floor for at least some of the upcoming season as she announced in late November that she is expecting her first child with her fiancé, Alex Bazzell.

 

Collier, who turned 25 years old in September, is expecting a baby girl in May of 2022. The reason that date is notable is because that is the same month the 2022 campaign tips off, with the regular season beginning on May 6 and concluding on Aug. 14 before the debut of a new playoff format

Even though Collier is going to at least miss the start of the year due to pregnancy, that doesn’t necessarily mean she would be lost for the entire year. We have seen players in the past, like Odyssey Sims when she was with the Lynx in 2020, who have come back shortly after giving birth to play in at least some portion of the season. 

If Collier does miss most or all of the 2022 season, that could persuade Minnesota to become creative to bring in a player to try and fill that large void that would be present in the rotation. Collier will remain under contract with the Lynx for the year either way, which would provide a hurdle for Reeve and company to overcome cap-wise, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Minnesota try and make something work as they have done with the roster in past years to deal with missing pieces in the rotation.

Either way, Collier will be away from the team for at least a portion of the upcoming season. For how long, however, is yet to be learned, which adds another interesting twist to the Lynx offseason. 

 

Where Does Minnesota Go From Here?

There are a few different scenarios that could arise after we learn more about the statuses of Lynx All-Stars Fowles and Collier in the coming weeks or months. We could see both of them take the floor—at least at some point—to try and help Minnesota put together another strong season, only one of the two suit up this year, or both of them step away from the team as they focus on building their lives outside of basketball.

So where does Minnesota go from here? What if both Fowles and Collier commit to playing in 2022? What if one or both of them aren’t on the floor donning a Lynx uniform? Let’s look into the salary cap situation in all of those cases and what Minnesota could do in a suddenly interesting offseason leading into the new year. 

 

Both Players Return 

First, let’s look at the option of both players returning for the 2022 campaign, which would obviously be the most desirable outcome for the Lynx. If both players return, the Lynx would remain as one of the favorites to compete for a championship, even if Collier misses most of the year.

As far as the salary cap is concerned, Fowles and Collier returning would mean Minnesota wouldn’t have much room to add any additional players. However, the Lynx probably wouldn’t have to add major players at that point anyway.

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If Fowles returns and re-signs with Minnesota, she would likely get a salary north of the maximum contract, which is $196,267 in 2022. The most likely contract scenario for Fowles, if she returns, would be a short-term deal near the $228,094 supermax number. As for Collier, her contract is slated at $72,141 for 2022. 

Not taking into account the other free agents the Lynx have this offseason, including Bridget Carleton, Layshia Clarendon and Rachel Banham, Fowles and Collier counted against the salary cap would already move Minnesota close to the $1,379,200 limit for its roster, according to Her Hoop Stats’ database

 

One Player Returns, One Doesn’t

The second option is that one player returns and the other one doesn’t. However, who is returning and who isn’t in this scenario makes a big difference for Minnesota’s bottom line. 

If Fowles returns and Collier doesn’t, then both players’ salaries would still count against the team salary in 2022, resulting in essentially the same scenario as if they both returned. Collier’s contract will be counted against the cap regardless of whether she plays or not. However, if she doesn’t return, the Lynx could suspend her in order to open up a roster spot.

On the other hand, if Collier returns and Fowles doesn’t, then Fowles’ absence would open up a maximum salary slot on the roster, allowing Minnesota to look around to add a player or two this offseason. Obviously, the Lynx would like to have Fowles back this year, but if she does look to move on from basketball, that would open up some room to potentially make moves. 

 

Both Players Don’t Return

The worst-case scenario for Minnesota is that both Fowles and Collier don’t return in 2022. It’s without question that losing two All-Star players in one offseason would set the Lynx back a bit and require some tinkering with the roster before the new year begins in May. 

If this scenario plays out and both Fowles and Collier aren’t on the court for Minnesota this season, the salary situation would be the same as if just Fowles wasn’t in the Lynx’s 2022 picture, which was touched on in the second scenario. Collier’s $72,141 contract is going to count against the salary cap in 2022 whether she takes the court during this upcoming season or not. 

If both Fowles and Collier don’t return in 2022, it would be tough for the Lynx to try and scramble to find players to fill those two huge vacancies. It would open up some salary space, but Minnesota would likely prefer not to be put in that position. 

If the Lynx were without Fowles’ contract, they could target some interesting free agents to fill that void. Players like Stefanie Dolson, Kiah Stokes, Astou Ndour-Fall, Elizabeth Williams, Shekinna Stricklen, Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey and Theresa Plaisance are some exciting unrestricted free agent options. As for the restricted free agents this offseason, Myisha Hines-Allen, Mercedes Russell, Monique Billings and others could also become available for consideration. 

Regardless of what takes place in the coming weeks and months as the offseason progresses, what many assumed would be a quiet offseason for the Lynx has recently become a bit more intriguing. Now it’s up to two of Minnesota’s All-Stars to decide what they will do and if the Lynx will have to make some unexpected roster moves before the new year tips off this summer. 

 

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