April 2, 2022
Projecting the Lynx’s opening day roster
Potential paths Minnesota may take
The Minnesota Lynx are experiencing a bit of a roster crunch. As of this writing, all 15 training camp roster spots are occupied—with training camp beginning in a couple of weeks—and the team possesses four picks (Nos. 8, 13, 22, 28) in the upcoming draft—which takes place on April 11.
Minnesota will undoubtedly be active in the trade market in the coming days in an attempt to shed salary and maximize the talent on their roster for one last Sylvia Fowles-led run at the title. In order to accomplish both tasks, the Lynx are going to have to be creative and open to making uncomfortable moves.
Here are a few potential paths the Lynx may take to duck below the salary cap while maintaining a championship-caliber roster.
Option #1: Cut Shepard, Dump Achonwa, Sign One Pick
Jessica Shepard has put up video game numbers all winter long with Italy’s Dinamo Sassari, but thus far in her career, her talents have not translated well to the WNBA level. In addition to dealing with injuries, she has been unable to force her way onto the court with the stellar play of Napheesa Collier, Damiris Dantas, and Sylvia Fowles making doing so even more difficult.
Despite Collier expected to miss most if not all of the season due to pregnancy, Rennia Davis‘ arrival will likely continue to leave playing time difficult to find for Shepard. The Lynx can cut her unprotected contract without any financial penalty, so them doing so is a near foregone conclusion.
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That frontcourt logjam—in addition to her large contract and middling performance last summer—is a big reason why trading Natalie Achonwa makes sense as well. If Minnesota can do so without bringing back any guaranteed money in return, trading Achonwa and releasing Shepard would free up $220,471 in cap space, providing them with enough flexibility to sign either their No. 8 or No. 13 overall pick. (Assuming both aren’t shipped out in order to convince another team to take on Achonwa.)
Selecting a frontcourt player with either pick would make sense as doing so would allow them to more or less take a redshirt year while adjusting to the WNBA. Two of the more enticing names that should be available in the 8-13 range are Georgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj and North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane.
In many respects, Cubaj and Cunane are opposites. Cubaj is dynamite on defense and the offensive glass, but is unpolished on offense. Cunane is fantastic in the post on offense and can extend beyond the 3-point line, but will likely struggle defensively and on the boards at the professional level. Both athletes could learn a lot from the mentorship of Fowles, Collier and the Lynx coaching staff and will likely not be expected to contribute much during their rookie seasons.
Option #1 Projected Roster:
Guards (4): Rachel Banham, Layshia Clarendon, Crystal Dangerfield, Kayla McBride
Wings (3): Bridget Carleton, Angel McCoughtry, Aerial Powers
Bigs (5): Napheesa Collier, Damiris Dantas, Rennia Davis, Sylvia Fowles, Lorela Cubaj/Elissa Cunane/Olivia Nelson-Ododa/Mya Hollingshed
Projected Roster Size: 12
Open Roster Spot: 0
Cap Space: $27,441
Option #2: Cut Banham, Carleton
While technically a possibility, this option feels highly unlikely for three major reasons.
First, the Lynx made it a priority to re-sign Rachel Banham this winter. While her game isn’t without its faults, her ability to knock down outside shots and provide depth at both the one and two provide a ton of value to Minnesota. The Lynx would not have re-signed her if they did not envision her in their plans this summer.
Second, perhaps no one provides more depth to the Lynx than Bridget Carleton. She can fill a multitude of roles on both ends of the court and is a strong outside shooter. She’s also a hard worker who is beloved by teammates and valued by the front office. She’s the type of role player that raises the floor of good teams and that’s a trait most don’t choose to part with.
Third, moving on from these two would leave Minnesota frontcourt heavy and a near non-threat from behind the arc. Davis would likely have to shift into a greater role at the three, despite her skillset likely being more equipped for the four in the WNBA.
(Secret Fourth reason: Minnesota would have to either trade and/or draft-and-stash all four of their picks, which feels unlikely.)
Option #2 Projected Roster:
Guards (3): Layshia Clarendon, Crystal Dangerfield, Kayla McBride
Wings (3): Angel McCoughtry, Aerial Powers, Rennia Davis
Bigs (5): Napheesa Collier, Damiris Dantas, Sylvia Fowles, Jessica Shepard, Natalie Achonwa
Projected Roster Size: 11
Open Roster Spot: 1
Cap Space: $12,198
Option #3: Something Out of Left Field
The classic “hedge hard, that way you look smarter in retrospect” move! In all seriousness, Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx front office seemingly always have something up their sleeve. They weren’t the favorites to sign Kayla McBride or Aerial Powers during the 2021 offseason—let alone both of them!—and the signing of Angel McCoughtry this winter also caught most people off guard.
At this point, all that is certain is that Minnesota needs to make moves and they will undoubtedly do so. Don’t be surprised if the Lynx trade a recognizable name or two near or on draft night. Likewise, don’t be surprised if they use their draft picks as leverage to get something done.
Option #3 Projected Roster:
Well, not anything, but you get the point.