At the draft, Lynx keeping an eye out for trade deals
MINNEAPOLIS—WNBA teams looking to deal quality veteran players in exchange for draft picks know who to call.
"There's always rumors about some of the veterans (potentially being dealt) and they go, 'Well, you know Minnesota is going to take them ...' " said Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx coach and general manager.
Reeve responds to that sentiment with a joke.
"(So I go), 'What makes you think we would trade our pick?' " Reeve quips. "It probably would be surprising for us to keep it."
The Lynx enter Thursday's WNBA draft without their first-round pick, having dealt it to Phoenix in March to acquire former all-star guard Danielle Robinson. It will be the third time in four years that Minnesota hasn't had a first-round selection. The Lynx own two second-round picks (Nos. 17 and 24, overall) and one third-round pick (No. 36).
Their 2015 first-rounder went to New York as part of a package to acquire Anna Cruz, who was one of the keys to Minnesota's 2015 title run.
The Lynx traded away their 2016 first-round pick as part of the deal that brought Sylvia Fowles to Minnesota. All Fowles has done since is win two WNBA Finals MVP awards along with the WNBA MVP award she claimed last season.
And it's not just first-rounders. The Lynx dealt an early second-round pick in the 2016 draft to San Antonio in exchange for Jia Perkins, who provided valuable guard depth each of the past two seasons.
It's not as though Minnesota ignores the draft. Reeve, who was named the Lynx's general manager during the offseason but has long possessed a big say in the decision-making process, was adamant that Minnesota does its homework leading up to the draft. The Lynx have separate lists of six players to target at each of their second-round draft picks heading into Thursday.
The front office does its best to mock out the draft to see who will be available when the Lynx pick and determine the value of those players. They have to know the true value of their pick before they do anything with it. They planned on keeping their first-round pick this year, but opportunities always present themselves, which lead to decisions.
"You just kind of look around the league and you go, 'OK, do we think it's best, do we have enough depth where we can now have a developmental player at this position if we think that's what's going to be available?' " Reeve said. "Or, does this player help us maybe get a veteran player that will better position us to compete for one of the top spots in the league? It just happens each year that maybe a situation presents itself with another team."
Teams are often praised for building through the draft. That's usually perceived as the best way to build a winner. And, in some ways, the Lynx did that. Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore were each drafted by the Lynx. The draft is what helped Minnesota develop into a championship-caliber team. But it's hard to use the draft to stay at that level, particularly when you're consistently picking at the back end of each round.
"It's hard to create a championship team with those level of players — plain and simple," Reeve said. "Building through the draft to me means you're in the top five for a few years. Philadelphia built through the draft, the 76ers. I don't believe in building through the draft in the bottom. If you're in the NBA, you're not building your championship team through the bottom, 27-30 in picks. So you just try to use your assets the best that you can, and maybe other teams are more willing to have a developmental player and you just try to take advantage of that, that they don't want whatever veteran, maybe it's too big of a contract, whatever it is."
Reeve admits she feels a sense of responsibility to put the Lynx in a position to contend for titles each year, understanding how special Minnesota's current group is. By now, the careers of Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson are on a year-to-year basis. But Reeve also wants to put the Lynx in a good position for the future.
Moore, 28, and Fowles, 32, are still in the primes of their careers, and Reeve wants to make sure they're still surrounded with talent when the veterans are gone. That's where younger players such as Cecilia Zandalasini and Alexis Jones come in. Reeve said other teams have had interest in Jones, whom the Lynx drafted in the first round last year, but Minnesota sees the young guard as a piece of its future.
That balance of the present and future is vital to the Lynx's long-term success.
"I think we have a pretty good blend," Reeve said. "It doesn't get any easier for this group. I think everyone else feels like they could beat us. I think they just think we're old. We're under siege; finding trading partners is not easy. I think people are anxiously awaiting the fall, so to speak. And we're going to work like heck to make sure it never comes for our opponents. It's something that we want to do.
"It's a big challenge every year. Not now, not this year, it's not going to happen. And that takes a lot of work, a lot of energy and a lot of luck. ... Everything has to go your way to have those great years."