June 15, 2021 

The Minnesota Lynx hardship continues after Achonwa, Powers injuries limit roster size

‘You know you’d never see this in the NBA’

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Lynx forward Natalie Achonwa matches up against the Washington Mystics’ Tina Charles on Jun. 8, 2021. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

Today it was announced that two of the Lynx’s key free agency signings, guard Aerial Powers and forward Natalie Achonwa, would be out indefinitely after sustaining injuries in their game against the Los Angeles Sparks. Powers tore her ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in her right thumb and will undergo surgery shortly. Achonwa suffered a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain in her right knee.

Both players are out indefinitely and, per general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve, neither player is expected to be back before the Olympic break.

“The Olympic hiatus is maybe the only saving grace in this situation,” Reeve told reporters after Monday’s practice. “It buys (us) a little extra time for the players to recover. (We) can’t necessarily predict how it’s gonna go but that would be the plan that they each could participate at some point following the Olympic hiatus.”

The team is also without forward Jessica Shepard, who is out indefinitely with a groin injury, and rookie first-round pick Rennia Davis, who is out for the remainder of the season with a left foot stress fracture.

The Lynx currently have just 9 players available for their next game against the Chicago Sky. With 10 games before the Olympic break and limited salary cap space to work with, Coach Reeve has her work cut out for her.

“We have a hard cap and roster replacement players go towards the cap and we (don’t) have a lot of cap space as it was,” said Reeve. “We’ve got some challenges that we’re trying to navigate and so how many hardship players you use and what can we get through.”

The injuries build on the struggles the limited 12-player rosters in the WNBA create. At the beginning of the season, after final roster decisions led to many surprising cuts such as second-year Megan Gustafson from the Dallas Wings and All-Star point guard Layshia Clarendon, who was waived by the New York Liberty before finding their new home with the Lynx, WNBA fans have been particularly vocal in calling for the expansion of the league’s roster sizes. 

And it’s safe to say that Coach Reeve echoes the sentiment as she told reporters, “It would certainly be more ideal to have more players and bigger roster sizes like the NBA has. You know, you’d never see this in the NBA. They have players they can call up and (they’re) always gonna have at least 12 players suited for the game and that’s just not the case for us and it’s problematic.”

While in a difficult situation, the players are focused on continuing to work through their team identity and chemistry issues.

“You can’t dwell on it. You can’t feel sorry for yourself.” forward Napheesa Collier said, “You just have to keep chugging along and hold it down until they’re able to come back.”

“It’s a little bit of adversity.” echoed guard Kayla McBride, “We don’t want to have injuries but it’s part of the game. And we understand that. Just staying tough, staying connected. We’ve had a lot of good practice time together so we’ll work our way through it. We got games to win so I think we all understand that and (we’ll) just come out and hoop the best we can.”

When asked what she tells her team when dealing with such a short roster size, Coach Reeve told reporters, “It’s really easy. One, Nobody’s gonna feel sorry for the Minnesota Lynx and two, Win anyway. That’s what we tell them. There’s no time for anybody to feel sorry for themselves (because) nobody’s gonna feel sorry for us, I know that for sure. Call around the league and ask them if anybody feels bad for the Minnesota Lynx. The answer’s no.”

With Powers and Achonwa out, it’s expected that the Lynx will sign forward Cierra Burdick on a hardship exception. Burdick started the 2021 season with the Phoenix Mercury and averaged 2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game before being waived by the team back in May.

Bench players like Bridget Carleton and Rachel Banham should also see more minutes in upcoming games. Carleton, who is averaging 4.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 21.6 minutes per game, has already had opportunities in the starting lineup in early season games when Collier was still overseas and when Damiris Dantas was out due to injury. The Lynx bench has stepped up in the past and is ready to handle the extra load.

“Everybody just knows they have to do a little bit more,” said McBride. “(It’s) next man up mentality.”

Written by Alyssa Graham

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