Reeve faces challenges with new-look Lynx

The Minnesota Lynx tipped off their 20th training camp on Sunday, and for the first time in several years, it will have a vastly different look.

For the first time in nine years, local star Lindsay Whalen wouldn’t be on the Lynx practice floor. After deciding to take a year off for family and ministry, star Maya Moore wouldn’t be appearing at Mayo Clinic Square in a practice jersey.

Also not present is Rebekkah Brunson, who is still feeling the effects of a concussion late last season. More importantly, she’s experiencing the new joys of parenting.

For a variety of reasons, the Lynx have many new faces this year, and the challenge for coach Cheryl Reeve is to blend them all together as one on the basketball court. That’s what makes this year’s training camp that much more important for a franchise that's won four WNBA titles, and three since 2013..

It might be Reeve’s biggest test in her 10th season as Lynx coach.

“They’re lost, that’s probably the biggest thing,” Reeve said after Monday’s practice. “There’s a newness that’s refreshing, but I’m not going to say if I had a choice that I wouldn’t prefer a bunch of veterans that know what the heck they’re doing. But it’s not the case, this is where we are, this is what happens.”

That’s the reality for Reeve when you don’t have three players who were mainstays in the starting lineup last year. While they don’t have Whalen, Moore and Brunson, they do have Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles as returning veterans to provide leadership.

Danielle Robinson is also back after a significant ankle injury that required surgery and rendered her largely immobile for nearly three months. She tore two ligaments and had her ankle reconstructed, but she was medically cleared in February and said she feels great.

Staying in the Twin Cities through her rehabilitation process and communicating regularly with coach Reeve was huge, she said. With Whalen gone, somebody has to be the new floor general for the Lynx. That somebody might be Robinson.

“The way that I worked and the way that I wanted to show them that I could lead, it was huge for me to be here,” Robinson said. “It didn’t matter even if I was hurt and I couldn’t do everything, I was going to show them the moment I got on the court that this is what I wanted to do and that they could trust me with the reigns.”

She’s entering her eighth WNBA season and averaged 6.5 points per game in 28 games last season.

She’ll have some help, as an old rival of the Lynx was traded to Minnesota in the offseason. Odyssey Sims is entering her sixth WNBA season, and spent the last two with the L.A. Sparks.

She exchanged her purple and yellow for a Lynx jersey last month.

“I think I look better in blue,” Sims said with a smile. “It was kind of shocking. I told Cheryl it was a little different. I never thought I would be playing with Minnesota just because of this program, the history they have. This is a winning organization, the winningest in the WNBA right now.”

The Lynx will look to Sims to help fill the void left by Whalen’s retirement. She played in all 34 games last year, averaging 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

“Odyssey is going to be on the floor, I’ve told her that. She’s going to be on the floor playing with Danielle a fair amount,” Reeve said. “She’s ready for whatever role and for however long we play her.”

The Lynx have five rookies in training camp and plenty of new faces, highlighted by first-round draft pick Napheesa Collier and former Gophers star Kenisha Bell. Collier was a star at UConn under coach Geno Auriemma.

She’s 6-2 and averaged 20.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and collected 25 double-doubles last season for the Huskies. The No. 6 pick is one of five UConn players to score at least 2,000 career points and collect 1,000 rebounds.

“I think Pheesa naturally just plays the game simply,” Reeve said. “I think overall her game translates right away just because she’s a good basketball player.”

The Lynx are coming off an 18-16 season and first round exit from the WNBA Playoffs. They’ve been to the postseason eight straight years. The hope is that doesn’t change despite the challenge of blending several new faces with a few seasoned veterans this year.

The reality is it’s a new era in Lynx basketball, one that will take some time to take shape.

“We have still some players that have been here so what the era is going to look like, I don’t know. But I just know that we’re going to teach like crazy, we’re going to play hard,” Reeve said. “Everything we’ve come to know about the Lynx, we’re going to do. The plays that we run are just going to be run by different players, hopefully with the same effectiveness.”