Minnesota Lynx: 2006 Preview
For most teams, rebuilding takes awhile. Not so in Minnesota, where the Lynx retooled their roster faster than Evelyn Wood can read The Cat in the Hat.
The project started midway through last season with the difficult, but necessary decision to trade Katie Smith, the face of the franchise since the team's inception in 1999. Smith holds nearly every Lynx team record and a handful of WNBA marks, but she played in nearly as many All-Star Games (4) as playoff games (5), never a good sign.
Recognizing that the window to win with Smith was closing, Minnesota sent her to Detroit on July 30 in exchange for Chandi Jones, Stacey Thomas and a first-round pick. Predictably, the Lynx struggled without their star. A 3-8 finish without Smith's team-leading 13.3 ppg plummeted the Lynx out of the playoffs and into the draft lottery.
October 25, 2006, will go down as a memorable day in Lynx history; the day Minnesota overcame the odds to win the WNBA Draft Lottery, giving them the first pick in the draft. Rebuilding officially came to an end on April 5 when the Lynx selected Seimone Augustus, the two-time NCAA Player of the Year, with the top pick. They used the pick acquired in the Smith deal to select Utah point guard Shona Thorburn.
Additionally, the Lynx acquired a second-round pick from Detroit and selected 6-1 forward Ambrosia Anderson from BYU. Minnesota completed its landmark day with the selection of Notre Dame guard Megan Duffy in the third round.
In less than a season, the Lynx had acquired a new franchise player, rebuilt their aging backcourt and fortified their talented frontcourt with three young players.
Augustus makes Suzie McConnell-Serio's team a contender for the playoffs despite one of the league's youngest rosters. The 6-1 guard has the talent to take aim at Smith's lofty team scoring records. Augustus led Louisiana State to three Final Fours, averaging 19.3 points and 5.2 rebounds as a four-year starter. As a senior, she led the NCAA in scoring (22.7 ppg) and shot an astounding 56.1 percent from the field.
Thorburn was second in the nation in assists last year, leading Utah to the Elite Eight. She should inherit the starter's role since Kristi Harrower, last year's starter, isn't expected to return.
Jones figures to the top reserve. She averaged 8.1 points and a team-high 3.0 assists in her 10 game stint with Minnesota last year.
Up front, the Lynx is very deep and very tall. Starters Svetlana Abrosimova (6-2), Vanessa Hayden (6-4) and Nicole Ohlde (6-5) are back, providing a formidable trio. Depth isn't a problem with Tamika Williams (6-2) (who is recovering from recent knee surgery), free agent Adrian Williams (6-4), and last year's top pick Kristen Mann (6-2) vying for playing time with the rookie Anderson. Last year's super sub, Stacey Lovelace, was lost to Chicago in the expansion draft.
Ohlde, 6-5, is Minnesota's best interior player. The team's leading returning scorer (11.2), she shot 45.5 percent last year, and led the team in rebounding (5.7). Hayden took huge strides in her second season, finishing second in the league in blocks (2.2) and contributing 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per night.
The biggest question mark for Minnesota is the team's lack of experience and continuity. The Lynx will try to incorporate four rookies - including two expected starters - into a lineup that has only five players remaining from as recently as 2004.
Unlike last year, when the Lynx started 11-9 and limped to the finish, this team looks like one that might struggle early while their prized rookies get comfortable, then come on strong late.