Sylvia Fowles is one of the two greatest centers in WNBA history. She was also the final member of the Minnesota Lynx dynasty’s big five to leave the franchise, which she did at the end of last season by retiring.
Fowles was still at the top of her game, so Minnesota is tasked with replacing a star. But the Lynx are used to winning; they don’t want to spend even one year out of the mix. Luckily for them, they have their best player in Napheesa Collier returning from maternity leave. They also have co-stars Aerial Powers and Kayla McBride and the No. 2 pick in the draft. That could be a big four right there.
The Lynx missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 11 years, but were competitive even against the best teams in the league. With them losing one star and returning another, you would think they’re not going to get much better or much worse. But free agency can always change that.
With Collier, Powers and McBride all making the max or close to it, the Lynx have to be careful about how they spend the rest of their money. They also have to ask themselves which of their four free agents they want around.
We know Cheryl Reeve values a good point guard; has Moriah Jefferson impressed her enough to be kept and paid a big amount?
Meanwhile, Damiris Dantas has been a key player for the Lynx in the past, but had an off-season last year. Rachel Banham is Minnesota’s own and brings scoring pop from distance. Bridget Carleton is a young and versatile player; it’s difficult to tell if she will be a star one day or just a role player. What will become of those three? And is there anyone else the Lynx want to bring in to spice it up like they did in 2021 by bringing in Powers and McBride? Or can they not afford to spice it up this time around?
By the numbers*
Free agents (type) (2022 average salary)
- Damiris Dantas (unrestricted) ($129,150)
- Rachel Banham (unrestricted) ($72,141)
- Bridget Carleton (restricted) ($72,141)
- Moriah Jefferson (unrestricted) ($67,141)
Total average salary of free agents: $340,573
Total team salary: $881,222
Cap space: $539,278
Replacing Fowles might be a little tricky because the best players available at No. 2 won’t be centers. Center Aliyah Boston, if she enters the draft, will go No. 1 and 6-foot-6 Elizabeth Kitley out of Virginia Tech isn’t a bad consolation at all, but most mocks have the Lynx taking the best available player (either Diamond Miller of Maryland, Haley Jones of Stanford or Rickea Jackson of Tennessee) with the second pick.
If the Lynx don’t choose to take Kitley at No. 2, they could trade for a center. Natalie Achonwa was considered a big get in 2021, but her contract is pricey ($155,100) for what she’s contributed. They Lynx could trade her to the Fever for center Queen Egbo ($67,634). Achonwa averaged 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds for Indiana in 2018, but just 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds for the Lynx last year. The Fever are looking for as much veteran leadership as they can get, but from Minnesota’s perspective Achonwa hasn’t been a productive player in a while, albeit because of injury.
Egbo made the All-Rookie team last year, averaging 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. She may only be entering her second season, but she knows what it takes to be a starting center in the league.
The other need for the Lynx is a point guard because right now Jefferson is their only one. So they could trade Achonwa for a point guard and get a starting center in free agency. They would want it to be an inexpensive point guard and the two options that are both cheap and good enough to be high-impact players are Julie Allemand ($69,770) and Aari McDonald ($78,586). Both are a little more expensive than Egbo, but there might still be money left over to sign Elizabeth Williams or Han Xu as a starting center. In Williams, they’d be getting one of the best defensive centers in the league and in Xu they’d be getting an up-and-coming potential star. Free agents Ezi Magbegor, Azurá Stevens and Amanda Zahui B. are likely going to be too expensive. Megan Gustafson wouldn’t be if, instead of acquiring Williams or Xu, the Lynx want to gamble on a player who has been tearing it up in EuroLeague Women.
If the Lynx choose to trade for a starting center, they will need to get the backup point guard in free agency and I think that could be Jordin Canada at around $139,000. That’d be the amount that they’d be able to pay Williams, Xu or Gustafson too. Canada is good enough to compete with Jefferson for the starting job, so Minnesota would be guaranteed to have a killer point guard coming off the bench.
I think Dantas is still a really good player, but I don’t know that the Lynx will feel the same way after she shot 26.2 percent from three last year. Let’s say they don’t try to keep her in free agency. Then, let’s say they pay Jefferson $150,000 for her outstanding numbers last year (10.8 points and 4.9 assists per game with the Lynx). I think they can pay Banham less than they would pay Dantas and will want to keep the hometown girl around. Let’s say Banham gets $100,000 after averaging a career-high 7.9 points per game last year. That leaves Carleton, who I also think will be prioritized ahead of Dantas because she is five years younger and has a phenomenal skillset. I put Carleton down at $95,000.
Regardless of whether it’s Miller, Jones or Jackson taken at No. 2, the Lynx will want a backup center at No. 12. Stephanie Soares of Iowa State, Taiyanna Jackson of Kansas and Jessika Carter of Mississippi State are all great options. They too could compete for the starting job.
So here’s what an 11-player roster could look like for the Lynx, roughly in order of importance and with projected salaries:
- Napheesa Collier, starting PF ($202,154)
- Aerial Powers, starting SF ($201,984)
- Kayla McBride, starting SG ($201,984)
- No. 2 pick, second SF (Diamond Miller/Haley Jones/Rickea Jackson) ($74,305)
- Moriah Jefferson, starting PG ($150,000)
- Jordin Canada, second PG or Elizabeth Williams, starting C or Han Xu, starting C or Megan Gustafson, starting C (FA signing), ($139,144, $137,008 or $128,192 depending on who they get in Achonwa trade)
- Jessica Shepard, second PF ($120,000)
- Queen Egbo, starting C or second C ($67,634) or Julie Allemand, second PG ($69,770) or Aari McDonald, second PG ($78,586) (acquired in Achonwa trade)
- Rachel Banham, second SG ($100,000)
- No. 12 pick (Stephanie Soares/Taiyanna Jackson/Jessika Carter), second C ($68,295)
- Bridget Carleton, second SF or third SF ($95,000)
If they take Kitley at No. 2, then it frees them up to look for the best possible player at any position for either the Achonwa trade or their free-agent signing, but not both. One of them still should be a point guard.
Might AD or Rebekah Gardner be in Minnesota’s price range if it is looking for free agents at all positions?
Center Shakira Austin is another option that the Lynx could trade for instead of Egbo, but I don’t think the Mystics will want to part ways with Austin. To be honest, the Dream probably aren’t going to want to part ways with McDonald either. Both she and Austin were No. 3 overall picks.
If the Lynx keep Achonwa and everything else remains the same, they’d have to miss out on the $139,144, $137,008 or $128,192 free agent. Assuming Banham remains at $100,000 and Carleton remains at $95,000 regardless of which team they go to, the Lynx would have $89,393 left to pay their free agent signing if they kept Carleton and let Banham go.
I think the Lynx value Achonwa, but they have a little more money to work with if they trade her. However, we can’t just assume the right trade will come along.
* All salary numbers come from Her Hoop Stats