January 12, 2024
2024 WNBA free agency preview: Minnesota Lynx
Minnesota looks to make the most of newfound flexibility
As the calendar turns to 2024, fans of the Minnesota Lynx have multiple reasons to look forward to mid-January and beyond when WNBA free agency starts to heat up. The team is armed with more salary cap flexibility than it has had in years and enters the new year with the foundation of the future settling into place.
“We do have a lot of pieces that we have a lot of excitement about,” Minnesota Lynx GM Clare Duwelius said in an interview with The Next. “We made a conscious decision that we were going to invest in our younger players and some of our rookies [last year], which was the perfect time for us to do that.”
Entering free agency, Minnesota has six players under contract. Franchise cornerstones Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride (fresh off the two-year extension she signed in September) are both signed through 2025. Crafty veterans Tiffany Mitchell and Jessica Shepard are both secured for the 2024 season, and the Minnesota Lynx’s celebrated 2023 draft class of Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász enter their sophomore campaigns on rookie scale contracts.
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In those six pieces, the Lynx have $821,258 on the books for this season, which gives them exactly $641,942 to play with per Her Hoop Stats.
“We’re super grateful that we have both (Collier and McBride) coming back and we can kind of go as they go, which is something we’ve always done with our veterans,” Duwelius said. “And [there’s] a lot of excitement around year two for Diamond and Dorka. We have really good pieces and obviously free agency is a fun time of year where we can build around those four people and just see how we can get better and take the next step and go a little bit deeper on a playoff run this year.”
How active could the Minnesota Lynx be?
The Lynx’s strategy over the coming weeks should aim toward maximizing the dynamic duos of their proven all-stars (Collier and McBride), and their budding soon-to-be-sophomores (Miller and Juhász). Minnesota finds itself in the top third of the league in terms of cap space and roster flexibility to play with. They could make a splash if they choose to, but any potential acquisitions will need to strike the right balance between talent and fit with the foundation that’s already in place.
“We do have flexibility this year, which is nice, but hasn’t necessarily been our situation for the past couple of years,” Duwelius explained. “It’s a fine balance. You want to be competitive in free agency. You want to get players that will (take) your team (to the) top four, championship contender as always is everyone’s goal, but I think it is about the responsibility factor. Not just signing someone because you have the pockets to do so this year. It’s about finding the right piece for your franchise culture and what makes sense in the long term in addition to the immediate.
“That’s exactly the perspective that we have going into free agency. Not that we’re not going to be aggressive but it will look different for us this year, because we have a mindset that we’ve got a really good foundation and we don’t have to be frivolous with anything we do this free agency season.”
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What are the Minnesota Lynx’s biggest needs?
“It’s a player or players who can relieve some pressure for [Collier] and [McBride],” Duwelius said when asked about the biggest priority heading into free agency. “Especially in the playoff run, which we put up a great fight against a really good team, but I think just relieving pressure, having a pressure valve that can help those two in the many ways that they are. Just having another weapon and another layer of defense.”
Translation: point guard, point guard, and point guard. By far the biggest need in Minnesota is often the smallest position in stature. For this offseason to be considered a success, Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx absolutely have to find their floor general and ideally more than one.
Current unrestricted free agent Lindsay Allen played well last year despite her season being bookended by a slow start and a premature finish due to injury. Allen provided plenty of pace and playmaking for the Lynx, who played much of their best basketball of 2023 with Allen at the point and went 10-7 when she was in the starting lineup. Mitchell and fellow unrestricted free agent Rachel Banham filled in admirably when Allen wasn’t on the court, but were out of position and their preferred comfort zones. Allen comfortably led the Lynx with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.51 in 2023, Banham and Mitchell posted ast/to rates of 1.5 and 1.08 respectively.
Allen can create shots for others like a magician (she averaged a career-best 4.5 assists per game in 2023), but didn’t knock down enough shots herself to garner enough respect from opposing defenses to truly unlock Minnesota’s attack. She shot a hair under 40% from the field, and barely over 20% from beyond the arc. There’s certainly an argument to be made that it’s in the team’s best interest to bring her back next year, but whether Allen returns as a Lynx or plies her trade elsewhere, acquiring more help at the point guard position has reached threat level midnight.
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Who could they target?
Elena Delle Donne’s impending free agency is the biggest domino that needs to fall before the league’s roster carousel can really start spinning. Will the superstar stay in DC? Could Reeve, Duwelius and Co. make a run at the 2x MVP? They certainly have the cash to make a competitive offer.
Delle Donne insisted after last season that her free agency priority is to play somewhere she can continue to pursue WNBA Championships. Could she view Minnesota as such a place? Would the Lynx offer a max contract to a 34-year-old player with a history of back issues? Those questions and more are part of what makes free agency such compelling theater. Wherever Delle Donne decides to play basketball in 2024 her process in arriving at that decision will take center stage.
Of the free agent signal callers on the market, the player who could likely earn the highest payday is Delle Donne’s longtime teammate and career-long Washington Mystic Natasha Cloud. If the Minnesota Lynx do bring back Allen, among other contributing players from last year’s playoff team, they should still be able to afford hiring Cloud for her many services. Cloud, who will turn 32 in February, matches the timeline for maximizing McBride, who turns 32 in June, and has shown plenty of evidence that she’s in the prime of her career on both ends of the floor. The St. Joseph’s alum has averaged 6.0+ assists per game in each of the last three seasons, scored a career-best 12.7 points per game in 2023, and earned first-team all-defense honors in 2022.
Cloud isn’t Kelsey Plum when it comes to shooting the ball, but her career shooting percentage of 38.1% from the field and 31% from three at least provides an additional level of gravity for opposing defenses to deal with. Not to mention the fire and tenacity she shows on the defensive end of the floor would be a significant asset in the development of both Miller and Juhász.
That asks a pretty big question. Would the Mystics reasonably allow both Delle Donne and Cloud to walk out the door in the same free agency period?
“I’m one of the best point guards in this league. Period,” Cloud said after her 33-point performance against the Liberty in last year’s playoffs. “And I don’t get the respect that I deserve.”
Making Cloud one of the highest-paid point guards in the league could be the gesture of respect needed to lure her away from the only WNBA city she’s called home.
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If Cloud opts to stay in the nation’s capital or the Lynx are outbid by another team, they could shift their focus to Chicago’s Courtney Williams, or LA’s Jordin Canada. Williams, like Mitchell, entered 2023 as a more traditional off-guard, but handled much of the floor general role for the Sky last season and averaged a career-high 6.3 assists per contest while helping Chicago reach the playoffs. Canada’s a two-time WNBA champion coming off career bests in both points (13.3 per game) and assists (6.0 per game) in 2023. Both would add offensive potency and have career pedigree that would make them strong cultural fits in Minnesota.
Who else could return from last year’s team?
The aforementioned Allen makes a ton of sense as a return candidate given her familiarity with Reeve and the glaring need at her position. Unrestricted free agents Banham and Bridget Carleton are both incredibly popular in the locker room and the community. The Minnesota Lynx aren’t exactly overflowing with shooters, and the shooting ability of both Banham and Carleton directly led to multiple wins last season. Banham, currently in her second season as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota, is also Minnesota basketball royalty. Her presence as a glue player who can also provide instant offense off the bench is an essential benefit for a team leaning on the development of young talent.
That trio combined for about $240,000 in salary last season, per Her Hoop Stats. If they could be retained close to that total, then it’s possible all three could return to the Lynx next season with plenty of space for the team to chase a player like Cloud and also be able to sign the No. 7 pick in the WNBA Draft (if they keep it).
There’s also the looming presence of 2023 No. 12 overall pick Maïa Hirsch, the versatile 6’5 20-year-old currently playing for Villeneuve d’Ascq in her native France. Lynx fans will have to play the waiting game to see if Hirsch will make her WNBA debut in 2024.
The imminent departures of Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa are part of the reason why Minnesota has so much significant cap space, so their days in Minnesota can be referred to in the past tense. Achonwa missed all of last season on maternity leave and Powers all but confirmed she’ll be wearing a different jersey next year on Twitter back in August.
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Third-year post-player Nikolina Milic has put some nice stretches together over the past couple seasons and is currently McBride’s teammate overseas with Fenerbahçe, but given the development of Juhász, she could be the odd one out if the Minnesota Lynx do decide to go big. She is a reserve free agent so can only negotiate with Minnesota unless the team chooses to release her.
The cap space and the strong foundation already on the books gives the Minnesota Lynx several paths to choose from as they march towards the 2024 season. Whether the team opts to make a big splash, several small splashes, or something in between, there’s opportunity to build off the steps taken in 2023 and hope to step even further in ’24.
“You know when you come into the Minnesota Lynx’s house, or play [us] at any point, you know we’re gonna be there,” Duwelius said. “Defensively and offensively. I think gearing up another level defensively, in addition to having another offensive threat, especially for [Collier and McBride] to have some pressure release.”
Written by Terry Horstman
Terry Horstman is a Minneapolis-based writer and covers the Minnesota Lynx beat for The Next. He previously wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves, and his other basketball writing has been published by Flagrant Magazine, HeadFake Hoops, Taco Bell Quarterly, and others. He's the creative nonfiction editor for the sports-themed literary magazine, the Under Review.