January 5, 2023 

2023 WNBA free agency preview: Minnesota Lynx

After a rough 2022 season —Minnesota is 'on a mission' to get better this offseason

The story of the Minnesota Lynx’s 2023 offseason is an easy one to tell. In fact, it was best outlined by renowned poets and the G.O.A.T. rap group Wu-Tang Clan in its hit track C.R.E.A.M.:

Cash rules everything around me /

C.R.E.A.M. get the money /

Dolla dolla bill y’all /

Minnesota president of basketball operations Cheryl Reeve and newly appointed general manager Clare Duwelius will have approximately $540,000 in cap space to work with. And Reeve hasn’t exactly been shy about outlining her plans for the offseason.

“I’m energized by a team that we could put together to be back in contention. I want that to be clear. This isn’t about. Maybe we can field a decent team, that sort of thing. That’s just not going to be the way that we’re going to do things,” Reeve said during the press conference this fall, announcing she would return to Minnesota after her contract had expired. “The expectations are high for the Minnesota Lynx. We’ve been the gold standard [in] this league and we’re on a mission to get back to that.”


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However, despite the seemingly high total, the Lynx’s 2023 cap space is only in the middle of the pack leaguewide, per Her Hoop Stats, meaning that some finagling will likely be needed for Reeve to accomplish her offseason goals.

Reeve has made it crystal clear that the Lynx will be aggressive in pursuing talent this offseason. While their cash total is mediocre, they have the cultural panache and enough trade capital — including the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 draft and veteran talent — to do so.

The Lynx currently have only five spots filled on their roster. Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa are all entering their final seasons under contract and have protected contracts. (Achonwa will likely miss all of the 2023 season due to pregnancy.) Napheesa Collier — who will return at full strength from pregnancy after returning briefly late last season — and Jessica Shepard will enter their first season of non-rookie pay after signing contract extensions in 2022.

They will undoubtedly go hard after unrestricted free agents Courtney Vandersloot and Breanna Stewart, both of whom will likely draw maximum contracts, among others. They’ll also likely look to retain restricted free agent Bridget Carleton as well as unrestricted free agents Rachel Banham and Damiris Dantas, all of whom are thought of highly by Reeve and her staff. And don’t rule out a return of Moriah Jefferson or Nikolina Milic, both of whom found success in Minnesota last summer, particularly if the Lynx whiff on a key free agent or two.

However, to sign a Vandersloot or Stewart — or both or others of their caliber — at least one of McBride, Powers and Achonwa would likely need to be traded to make the math work. Both players are eligible for supermax contracts ($234,936) with the Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm, respectively. Minnesota, meanwhile, would only be able to offer a standard max contract of $202,154. Shipping out McBride or Powers for draft picks alone would free up $201,984, while trading Achonwa would release $155,100.

Powers and Achonwa are seemingly more likely to be moved than McBride, perhaps to teams that miss out on other free-agent targets or are looking for veteran leadership. Powers struggled for much of the 2022 campaign, ranking among the least efficient high-volume scorers in the league. She did not perform consistently when forced into being an offensive initiator due to injuries, showing why many view her as more of a third/fourth option and/or bench threat than a true star.

Achonwa has had an up-and-down tenure with the Lynx, to put it kindly. Injuries and inconsistent performance have seemingly derailed a once-promising career. Although she is considered a wonderful teammate and a great advocate for women and the sport, a change of scenery may be needed to regain her previous form.


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But it should be noted that Reeve isn’t shy about pulling a proverbial rabbit out of her hat. Last year, she signed five-time WNBA All-Star Angel McCoughtry and opted to part with 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield, two moves that weren’t expected but definitely caused ripples. Collier and Shepard signed non-guaranteed multiyear extensions, meaning both could be cut without penalty. Collier ($202,154) is the face of the franchise and will not be going anywhere any time soon, but can the same be said about Shepard ($120,000)?

Additionally, is it guaranteed that the Lynx will look to trade their two first-round draft picks? While Reeve prefers not to rely on rookies if she doesn’t have to, the allure of employing Stanford’s Haley Jones may be too strong to pass up. The added benefit of drafting and signing rookies of Jones’ caliber is that the Lynx are likely to get good production — if perhaps not immediately — on a cheap contract. Whoever is selected with the No. 2 overall pick will earn a contract worth $74,305, which is precisely the same as the veteran minimum value.

Should the Lynx miss out on Vandersloot and Stewart, thus likely forcing them to keep the No. 2 pick, they may turn their gaze upon the likes of Azurá Stevens or Erica Wheeler. Both could be signed for less than a max contract, leaving more room to bring back Carleton, Banham and Dantas.

Regardless of how the offseason ultimately plays out, the 2023 Minnesota Lynx will scantly resemble their 2022 iteration. Reeve did not return to rebuild and will not settle for another abysmal campaign. The Lynx will be busy and look to make at least one move that will shake up the WNBA landscape.

Written by Lucas Seehafer

Lucas Seehafer has served as The Next's Minnesota Lynx beat writer since 2022. He is also a physical therapist practicing in southern Minnesota. His work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Forbes, FanSided, and various other websites.

7 Comments

  1. RM Williams on January 6, 2023 at 10:31 am

    It is time for the Lynx to move on from hometown sweetheart Rachel Banham. She is never going to be any better than she is now, which, at best, is inconsistent. There are far better players available in the draft with much greater potential. And as much as I enjoy watching Bridget play, one might say the same about her potential. And given the history of injury and personal matters, it might not be wise to try and re-sign Dantas. Yet another inconsistent player. Cheryl needs to overcome her fear of rookies and look more closely at the abundance of talent in the draft. The future should not be a year to year case of wishful thinking. It may very well require a closer look at what can be rather than what was. Case in point – Angel McCoughtry. A bona fide debacle.

    • Tim Daniels on January 9, 2023 at 11:31 am

      I disagree that it’s time to “move on” from Rachel. If she is willing to return at a reasonable salary, say the veteran’s minimum, she is someone who knows our system, and who can provide valuable minutes as a back-up at both the 1 and the 2 spot. She is also one of the better three-point shooters in the league. Last year, for example, she had the second best 3-point percentage on the team—behind only Moriah Jefferson, the league leader in 3-point percentage. Indeed, her success rate on three-point shots, 38.3 % on an average of 4.1 three-point shots per game, was 13th best in the league. While I agree that, at this point, she probably already is the player that she is going to be moving forward, I think that she has value to the team, at least as a reliable back-up who can provide some insurance against injuries and who can also give younger players time to develop without being thrust prematurely into heavy minutes on the court.

      I agree that we may have to carry more rookies on the team this year, if only due to salary cap concerns. Fortunately, we have three picks in the top 16, so that it seems like a good time to try developing some younger talent. However, except for the number 2 pick, I wouldn’t want to lean on the rookies too heavily. Having McBride, Powers, Collier, and Shephard under contract, with the possibility of re-signing Mo Jeff to run the point, should allow us to field a competitive starting five. Re-signing Banham at a modest cost, as well as Dantas or Milic, should also give us some depth at the one/two and four/five spots, while also leaving three spots available for developmental prospects.

      I am kind of wondering whether the injury to Soares yesterday will prevent us from drafting her as one of those developmental prospects. Since Achonwa is pretty much guaranteed to miss most, if not all, of the season, drafting Soares for the future should immediately create a hardship exemption for the team, if that’s the route that they wanted to go.

      • RM Williams on January 9, 2023 at 9:18 pm

        I think Soares would have been a great 2nd round pick. Drafting her for the future is a great idea. Todd Roman has Liz Kitley as the #12 pick, which, I think, is a possibility. I also think Allen is a viable option as a bench point guard, depending on who Cheryl is looking at in free agency. I would also take Milic over Dantas at this point. I think Nina, once she has the benefit of a full training camp and can stop picking up so many fouls, is the better choice. She plays hard and seems to immediately impact the game. Some strong rookies on the bench of course would be a gift. And I have Brionna Jones on my mock draft.
        I suspect that between the two of us, we could come up with quite a roster.

  2. Tim Daniels on January 6, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    With Fowles’ retirement and the probable loss of Achonwa’s services this season while on maternity leave, I’d be surprised if Shephard isn’t back. She is is the only one of the six players currently under contract upon whom we can rely to spend significant time at the center spot. Moreover, her $120,000 salary is also fairly cheap. (It’s about $10,000 less than what Dantas played for last year and the probable minimum that we will have to pay to bring Damiris back.)

    Actually, the Lynx cap situation is very tricky, even without the addition of a Stewart or a Vandersloot as free agents. The team has just over $881,000 committed to five players (Collier, Shephard, McBride, Powers, and Achonwa), only four of whom are likely to spend significant time on the court. If the first three draft picks make the team (and rookie contracts are about the cheapest contracts around), then this would cost an additional $207,890 against the cap. That leaves only $331,388 to sign an additional three players in order to round out an eleven-player roster. If Dantas requires an outlay of $120,000 (matching the Shephard contract), that leaves just $211,388 to sign two more players, one of whom will command a minimum salary of at least $72,141. Maybe the Lynx can re-sign Moriah Jefferson for just under $140,000 and convince Banham to sign for the veteran’s minimum. However, barring a trade, it’s difficult to see how they retain Carlton, who was projected as receiving multiple offers of more than $100,000 in the three-part WNBA 2023 Mock Offseason on Rebkell. Perhaps Milic could be signed for somewhat less than what Dantas would command, but without a trade, it may be difficult simply to retain our own free agents.

    Assuming that we are able to re-sign Moriah Jefferson, Banham, and either Dantas or Milic, I would like to see them draft Haley Jones with the two pick. She is not the best outside shooter, but I am hopeful (based largely on her free throw percentages) that her outside shooting will come around. Furthermore, her ability to initiate/facilitate an offense (see the first quarter of the Stanford-Arizona game, where she scored or assisted in 16 of Stanford’s first 19 points) should help to alleviate concerns arising from Jefferson’s injury history and our lack of depth at the point.

  3. Tim Daniels on January 7, 2023 at 6:04 am

    This is a continuation of my earlier post. With their later draft picks, the Lynx probably should target a point guard and a back-up center. Players like Zia Cooke (though I’m not sure she’s really a point guard), Shaylee Gonzalez, Dyaisha Fair, Ashley Owusu, and Endyia Rogers should all be available. For back-up centers available late in the first or early in the second round, Kitley may or may not be there, but MacKenzie Holmes, Stephanie Soares, Taiyanna Jackson, Maia Hirsch, and Tamari Key are all possibilities. Given that Dantas is more of a stretch 4 at just over 6’2”, and that Shephard, while more of a banger, is not quite even 6’3” herself, it might be nice to draft someone with a little more height than Holmes, though she has been playing well against good competition.

    With Jefferson, Banham, a point forward like Haley Jones, and one of the above point guard prospects, we should have enough depth at PG. Furthermore, Shephard, Dantas/Milic, and one of the above post prospects should hopefully be able to hold down the 5.

    By the way, in the first paragraph of my earlier post, I should have said that Shephard is the only one of the “five” players currently under contract with the Lynx who is likely to spend significant time next season at center. We do not currently have “six” players under contract, only five—Collier, Shephard, Achonwa, MacBride, and Powers.

  4. Tim Daniels on January 14, 2023 at 12:13 am

    On her podcast earlier this week, Cheryl Reeve remarked that the 2, 12, and 16 picks are valuable assets, and that it’s important to have affordable rookie contracts on a team. She continued, however, that although it’s important to have some affordable rookie contracts on your team, it’s more important to have good players. That makes me think that she plans on trading one or more of the draft picks away, probably to persuade another team to accept one of our more burdensome contracts—possibly Achonwa’s, but maybe even Powers’—in a trade. Getting rid of Achonwa’s contract in a trade, especially if we could also bring in someone to play the point or take some minutes at center, would help alleviate some of the problems caused by the cap room straight-jacket that we are currently in. I just hope she doesn’t go too far with trading away picks. I definitely do not want to move the number 2 pick for cap relief and wouldn’t want to relinquish multiple picks, not unless we get something significant in return.

    To continue with my reading into people’s comments—Stephanie Soares, after sustaining her recent ACL injury, said something to the effect that this was not how she saw her season ending, but that she wanted to thank the people at Iowa State for the opportunities that she had received there. Over on Rebkell, on the Mock Draft thread, there was some disagreement between Richyy and Awhom about whether Soares qualified for another year of eligibility as a redshirt graduate student, based on her injury. Personally, the fact that she was thanking people for the opportunities that she’s had at Iowa State makes me think that she is planning on entering the draft. She will be 23 this April, and she allegedly came in as a graduate transfer to Iowa State in order to raise her profile and drum up interest among WNBA teams. She’s done that, and I anticipate that she will be in the draft, if we still have the 16 pick available and want to draft her for the future. She strikes me as being more mobile than someone like Taiyanna Jackson—better able to move her feet to stay with some driving to the basket from the perimeter, and better able to drive to the basket herself. She is definitely a lot more active than Jackson and might be a nice pick up.

  5. Tim Daniels on January 14, 2023 at 6:14 pm

    Hunter Cruse and Joshua Welch were on their Saturday podcast today talking about both Soares and Taiyanna Jackson, among other players. Josh said that, prior to her injury, he saw Soares as being a sneaky good second round pick or, a little later in the podcast, maybe even a late first rounder. However, after the injury, he thinks that she will probably return to Iowa State. Both Josh and Hunter seemed to agree that, because Soares’ sample size is so limited and consists of only a half season of Division One play, no team would feel strongly enough about her to draft her as a “stash” pick—an injured pl@yer to hold on the roster with the idea that she’ll have a role on the team in 2024. Teams won’t treat her like a Satou Sabally, a Chelsea Gray, or even a Natalie Achonwa—I guess not even if her selection would net a cap-challenged team like the Lynx an immediate hardship exception.

    Surprisingly, a little later in the podcast, Josh said that he saw Taiyanna Jackson as now being a definite first rounder and perhaps not even making it to Atlanta with their second pick of the first round at number 8. Personally, I think she is less mobile and considerably less active than Soares, so I’d be very surprised if she’s a first round draft pick, but who knows.

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