Inside the W with Michelle Smith: New-Look Lynx in 2019

Let’s start with this: There is no replacing Maya Moore.

The Minnesota Lynx will not just be able to plug someone into her starting spot on the floor and be the same team. They won’t be able to get a little extra scoring from the guard spot and a few more rebounds in the paint and make up for what will be lost in 2019.

There is no substitute for the things that Moore has brought to the Lynx since she arrived in 2011 and redefined a franchise – and to some degree an entire league – with her combination of skill, tenacity, durability, clutch play and pure will to win.

Minnesota’s trophy case is full of four WNBA championship trophies not solely because of Maya Moore, but it’s safe to say it might not be full at all without her.

The news that Moore will be sitting out the 2019 WNBA season isn’t shocking. A statement from Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve back on January 17 telegraphed the possibility that this might happen. But it’s no less a shock to the system for Lynx and WNBA fans who are used to seeing Moore on the floor, working her magic as one of the best players on the planet.

Moore’s decision to take a year away to focus on her family and pursue her ministry puts the six-time All-Star on a different path, and it puts the Lynx on a different path as well.

Big change for the most successful WNBA franchise of the last decade was already in the air with the retirement of point guard Lindsay Whalen and the late-career status of stalwarts Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson. Moore’s sabbatical accelerates it even further and faster.

The center of the Lynx universe literally shifts to the center – Sylvia Fowles.

The 2017 WNBA MVP will be the cornerstone of a franchise that ended a run of six trips to the WNBA Finals in seven years with a first-round playoff exit in 2018.

Fowles is a great player to build around as Reeve begins a remodel of the franchise she has led since 2010, the year before Moore arrived.

Fowles averaged 17.1 points and a career-best 11.9 rebounds a game in 2018. She is rested after choosing not to play overseas while healing from a left elbow injury that plagued her down the stretch of the 2018 campaign.

The Lynx also re-signed Augustus, who is returning for her 14th season in Minnesota and will have to pick up some of the scoring slack. At 34, Augustus – the franchise leader in games and minutes played, points and field-goals made – can’t turn back the clock, but she can still produce at a high level and will be a steadying presence on the floor.

She is coming off a 2018 in which stayed healthy, starting in 33 games, her most since 2011. She averaged 10.8 points and 2.6 assists per game.

Brunson’s status is not as clear. The WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder – and the only player in WNBA history with five championships – is an unrestricted free agent and has not yet signed for 2019. Brunson averaged 7.2 points a game last season, her lowest total over a full season since 2006.

The Lynx were already prepared to move forward this season without Whalen, who retired after a remarkable career to take the coaching job at the University of Minnesota.

Danielle Robinson, a dynamic and experienced point guard, was signed last season to take the baton from Whalen and now she will be holding it firmly with Whalen gone.

Robinson will push pace and provide lockdown defense on the perimeter, and she will be needed to add more scoring punch after averaging 6.5 points a game in 18.6 minutes last season. She will also have her first true opportunity to be the Lynx’s floor leader and tone-setter.

The return of Damiris Dantis, the Brazilian forward who was drafted by Minnesota back in 2012 and spent the last two seasons in Atlanta, brings athleticism and size to the post and needed depth.

Karima Christmas-Kelly, who won a title in 2012 with Indiana over the Lynx, also signed as a free-agent and will be a versatile addition to the wing, where she can play both shooting guard and small forward and will be a strong rebounder out of the guard spot and a strong complement to Robinson. Christmas-Kelly averaged 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game in Dallas last season.

Reeve always knew this time was coming, when the tight-knit, stable roster that she guided to four championships would have to change and morph into a new start and a new identity. A season without Maya Moore is perhaps not something she was planning for. But it presents an opportunity for reinvention, and a major reboot.

Moore will be missed. But in the open space that she leaves behind in 2019, the Lynx have to hope that something new and interesting will grow.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.