June 11, 2021 

Lynx activate Aerial Powers, Layshia Clarendon automatically released

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did we get here?”

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Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?

Well, seeing as you’ve already read the headline, you had little choice in the matter. Sorry I couldn’t maintain the illusion of free will.

On Friday afternoon, the Minnesota Lynx announced that they were activating shooting guard Aerial Powers from injury, a move that automatically terminated the hardship contract of point guard Layshia Clarendon. The team added in another press release that first-round rookie forward Rennia Davis will miss the season on account of a stress fracture, as was expected, and that third-year big Jessica Shepard will be out indefinitely with a “mild adductor strain.”

Now you may find yourself confused. And you may ask yourself, in your best David Byrne impression, “Well, how did we get here?”

The key is the idiosyncrasies of the league’s hardship structure. Presuming that Minnesota did not prefer to lose Layshia — a more-than-positive contributor to the Lynx since their arrival who’d shot an excellent 58% true shooting and started the last three games — his release was the result of his hardship contract being voided. That is, the terms of their contract were nullified, those being the stipulation that Clarendon had a roster spot for as long as Minnesota qualified for that hardship exemption by having fewer than 10 other players available for game day. This means that Powers almost certainly was activated before the Lynx knew Shepard’s diagnosis.

Shepard’s injury means Minnesota doesn’t actually head into its Saturday game against Los Angeles with any more players available than it did in its Tuesday loss to Washington. Same as it ever was, and the Lynx should be able to add Clarendon back on a hardship contract immediately (a mechanism the Sky have done with rookie center Natasha Mack to an absurd extent this year). That’s exactly what they plan to do, according to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune.

Any neutral observer with half a brain would surmise that Minnesota would like Clarendon to stick around for the remainder of the season, though; the team only has one point guard on its roster — Crystal Dangerfield, who looks every bit the second-year player she is — and the Powers At Point experiment was a resounding failure. The Lynx might have the money to re-sign Clarendon for the rest of the season, and if not, should Shepard’s contract really stand in the way of — nevermind, better to not literally add insult to injury.

But that’s where the WNBA’s oft-confusing CBA comes in. Currently, teams must wait ten days between the termination of a player’s hardship contract and signing them to a full contract. And you may ask yourself, “How do they work this?”

The WNBA is unique here. In the MNBA, a 10-day contract can be converted to a rest-of-season one at any point in its life (as can a two-way contract). In the NFL, in MLB, in basically every other major sports league, there is no restriction on a team’s ability to re-sign its expiring-in-season contracts.

On the bright side, the mid-season guarantee date (June 30, waivers by June 28) is rapidly approaching. Should the hardship clause remain active until then, the Lynx can effectively convert Clarendon to a rest-of-season contract without delay, letting the days go by without letting the water hold them down. And with Shepard playing fewer than nine minutes per game and not contributing much in those minutes, it’s not like Minnesota should be clamoring for a frontcourt replacement first.

Now that was the bad news. The good news is Powers’ return won’t just be a treat for fans, but also for the Lynx, who’ve sorely missed having the two-way shooting guard. In recent games, Minnesota has mostly been playing a combination of Kayla McBride and Dangerfield at the two, with spot minutes from Rachel Banham, who only recently has found her shooting groove.

Despite the Lynx’s 3-1 run since Clarendon’s arrival, that shooting guard rotation has gone poorly. Dangerfield is not equipped to track off-ball wings — not that she’s generally equipped to defend in the first place — and McBride has been overtasked in looking for her shot and having to chase guards on the perimeter. Powers, however, is a superb guard and wing defender and has been great at getting her shot when needed. The defensive attention that warrants will also open both shots and drives for Clarendon, Dangerfield, and McBride more often.

Suffice to say, assuming Minnesota will retain Clarendon, the suddenly hot Lynx are likely to return to the top of the standings once again.

“Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/her) covers the Seattle Storm and college basketball for The Next, while also writing for The Chronicle, Duke's independent student paper

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