The WNBA’s greatest dynasty has fallen in the 2018 playoffs at the hands of its archrival Los Angeles Sparks, and when it returns, it won’t look the same. Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen has already announced her retirement and forward Rebekkah Brunson’s future is unclear. At the very least, one of the group’s core members, its lone true Minnesotan, won’t be on the court in blue and grey again. It’ll be a strange sight.
The Minnesota Lynx have changed the entire landscape of the 22-year-old league, pushing the WNBA’s GMs to think bigger and adapt to a team with weapons at every position. There’s a reason teams like the Seattle Storm sit atop the league’s standings firing three-point shots endlessly. That’s one of the few ways to out-offense the Lynx, and it’s taken this long to figure out. But now they’re figured out, and for the first time, showing their age.
All five of the Lynx starters from the last four years could go to the Hall of Fame. That’s how the team’s won a championship every other year since 2011. It wasn’t an organic growth in Minnesota either. The Target Center became the place the league’s best stars wanted to play at. Center Sylvia Fowles demanded a trade to co-star alongside Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Whalen and Brunson two years before she broke out as MVP. It’s a culture with fans raucous enough to match the intensity of their head coach.
That’s why it’s been so strange to watch this team struggle through the 2018 season. The faces are all the same, but age caught up even quicker than fans thought.
That was apparent in the team’s first-round loss to the Sparks
When Maya Moore’s missing a pair of free throws and airballing a three in the final minutes off the fourth quarter, something’s wrong. That’s what it’s felt like all year.
The Sparks only won narrowly, 75-68, but the Lynx had to come back from a 14-point deficit.
L.A.’s third-best scorer Chelsea picked Minnesota’s defense apart for a game-high 26 points and Nneka Ogwumike, amidst a battle with mono, had 19 points. The Lynx wings and guards just weren’t quick enough to stay in front of them or negate cuts to the hoop.
Candace Parker scored all of two points as she struggled through nausea in the opening half and that didn’t even matter much.
Minnesota needs reshaping, and its early exit put a spotlight on why.
Whalen’s absence will be felt on all levels next season
Whalen is a spark plug, an able shooter but a more willing passer: a teammate’s dream really. If a ball hits the ground, you know whose small 5’9 frame would leap first. Her moves off the dribble keep defenders second-guessing, her explosiveness allows her to break straight to the hoop or she can pull up in rhythm. She’s a rock in everything Minnesota does.
She’s the soul too.
Whalen has no problem playing dirty when she feels the time calls for it — looking at you, Odyssey Sims.
That was it for the buzzer-beaters, but the beef...— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) August 21, 2018
THIS IS WHERE THE BEEF TRULY REHEATS.
Lindsay Whalen is gonna be a HOFer. She's known for being tough as hell.
That's why she had no trouble flagrant fouling Odyssey Sims, her nemesis-to be. pic.twitter.com/J4IF5sb2Tr
Or holding a grudge — yep, still Odyssey.
GUESS WHO BEEFED when these teams met earlier this season?— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) August 21, 2018
Yup, Sims and Whalen. pic.twitter.com/oAzn0Xak5S
A week later we learned in a New York Times article from Whalen's coach that Whalen thinks the fine she got for her 2017 flagrant on Sims was "the best $200 she's ever spent"— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) August 21, 2018
Yeah. These two HATE other.https://t.co/CZZ8oT3Uro pic.twitter.com/LlzLat3E4C
Her loss as a player will be felt on the floor and off it in the ‘W.’
Though it’s a bit relieving to know she’s retiring to coach the University of Minnesota’s team. There’s traces of Whalen still to be felt in the league.
Now Minnesota has to replace her and more.
To say goodbye to the Lynx as we know them isn’t to say goodbye to them entirely.
Losing Whalen and maybe Brunson stings for long-term fans, but at this point, neither are running the ship anymore. The keys were handed off a while back to Maya Moore and even more recently to Sylvia Fowles, who at 29 and 32 years old are still riding out their primes. That core won’t let the Lynx fizzle into tank mode.
Minnesota already has its Whalen replacement in line anyway. They inked current backup and former All-Star Danielle Robinson to a long-term deal this summer. And the absence of Whalen should open space to recruit another star. Is Tina Charles ready to leave New York? Is sharpshooter Allie Quigley a possibility? The Lynx could have superstar replacement options.
So this isn’t a farewell to the Lynx dynasty. It’s just the close of its first chapter — a historic one at that.