June 12, 2022
How a growing list of unavailable players has pushed the Minnesota Lynx to the brink
The Lynx have discovered that sometimes things just happen
There are many well-known aphorisms in sports, but one of the more commonly recited when discussing overall team and individual athlete potential is that “the best ability is availability.” The theory is that it doesn’t matter how good a player or team is if they aren’t able to play consistently due to injury. Although the saying misguidedly implies at least some degree of fault on the part of the athlete — ”If only they trained harder/rested more/weren’t ‘injury prone’/etc., they’d be able to play” — like most cliché sayings, this one contains an element of truth. The 2022 Minnesota Lynx are living proof.
The Lynx entered the summer with dreams of competing for a championship, sending franchise cornerstone Sylvia Fowles onto her life after basketball as one of the few able to end their career on a winning note. They spent big money on free agents Layshia Clarendon and Angel McCoughtry. They brought back valuable glue players Bridget Carleton and Rachel Banham to help. They went all in, just as teams that were in their position should do.
But rather than waking up to find that their dreams had magically turned into reality, they fell deeper and deeper asleep, finding that their dreams were supplanted by the stuff of nightmares.
Clarendon was cut before the season even began as Minnesota determined that their right leg had not yet sufficiently healed from a stress injury suffered at the tail-end of the 2021 season. McCoughtry only made it two games before she was bought out due to poor performance, a portion of which could be attributed to a prolonged recovery from a right ACL tear one season prior. Natalie Achonwa has missed all but two games due to a nagging hamstring strain. Damiris Dantas made her season debut on Friday after missing the first third of the season with a Lisfranc injury in her foot. Napheesa Collier is expected to miss all season due to maternity leave. Moriah Jefferson has missed time with a quadriceps strain. Kayla McBride missed the first four games as she was still playing overseas and now has a right foot injury leaving her status questionable for Sunday’s game against the Indiana Fever. Aerial Powers and Jessica Shepard have not missed any games, but have been banged up. Thursday’s news that Fowles is out indefinitely with a cartilage injury in her right knee is the icing on a cake Minnesota never wanted to eat.
In total, the Lynx have accumulated 45 missed games and counting from six of their top eight players and their one prized free-agent acquisition. Sure, the on-court production has been poor — Minnesota ranks ninth in both offensive (96.8) and defensive rating (105.8) — but could any team in the league perform any better under the same circumstances?
Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx athletes would never contend that the injury bug that has bitten them repeatedly is the fulcrum pushing their poor play. They’d more willingly cite the team’s lack of ball movement, inability to get stops on the defensive end, and propensity for committing too many turnovers, each a genuinely acceptable answer. However, at a certain point, the lack of availability becomes an undeniable factor.
“I’d have healthy players,” Reeve told the media earlier this season when asked what she would do differently if given another opportunity to run the offseason. “We’re just responding to the situations that have arisen.”
Minnesota has been on its back foot all season responding to the flurry of situations that continue to arise like a welterweight boxer throwing jab after jab. On Thursday, a potential knockout haymaker was delivered in the form of the Fowles injury news, leaving the Lynx on the verge of collapse.
But unlike a boxer who can protect against a knockout by improving their technique and adopting a defensive mindset, Minnesota ultimately could do very little to avoid its 45 lost games. Injuries are multifactorial and complex, rarely allowing for an easy diagnosis of what went wrong from a physiological and bio-mechanical perspective. Pregnancy is simply a time-consuming, energy-intensive, anatomically-challenging process. The overseas women’s basketball situation is what it is.
It’s natural to seek and place blame for events that go wrong in our life. We don’t want to accept that sometimes random chance doesn’t fall in our favor as that suggests we don’t have as much control over our experiences as we’d like. But the fact of the matter is that we don’t have as much control over our experiences as we’d like.
Perhaps Reeve could have conducted her offseason in a way that would have been more beneficial to her team. But any criticism directed her way is fueled by the clear vision of hindsight. In all reality, there is little blame to be placed anywhere.
Sometimes things happen. It just happened to all happen to the Lynx this summer.
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.