I once asked former Gopher football coach Jim Wacker why his win-loss record had been so much better at the high school level than in college. Wacker looked at me and said, with a straight face, “Tim, I’m a much better coach when I have bigger, stronger, faster athletes.” The same goes for Minnesota Lynx Head Coach/General Manager Cheryl Reeve.
With four championship rings and six finals appearances, Reeve, for the most part, gets her due. However, there are still some who wonder how much credit Reeve deserves for the Lynx success, considering the level of talent she had to work with. This year, there is no such mystery.
Make no mistake about it; this year the curtain is being drawn back not only on Cheryl Reeve, the WNBA head coach, but also on Cheryl Reeve, the WNBA general manager. And while we’ve only had a small sample size, the early returns are more than promising.
In what is supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Lynx got out of the gate with a 3-0 start. When factoring in the fact that two veteran players Reeve was heavily counting on (Rebekkah Brunson, concussion protocol and Seimone Augustus, arthroscopic surgery) have yet to play, then the Lynx’ strong start is even more impressive.
Cheryl Reeve was hired from Detroit 10 years ago by a Lynx franchise that had experienced only futility to that point. Reeve’s arrival didn’t bring initial success either, as the team finished 14-20 in 2009 and 13-21 in 2010, obviously missing the playoffs in both years. 2010, however, brought the return of former Hutchinson and U of M standout Lindsay Whalen from the Connecticut Sun. Additionally, power forward Rebekkah Brunson joined the Lynx in the dispersal draft of the Sacramento Monarchs and small forward and former #1 overall draft pick Seimone Augustus joined the team before Reeve arrived. 2010’s last place finish also gave the Lynx the overall #1 pick in the 2011 draft, bringing UConn superstar Maya Moore to catapult the Lynx from the WNBA outhouse to the penthouse.
In 2011 the Lynx went from worst to first, winning the franchise’s first WNBA title. That same group appeared in the 2012 league final and won the 2013 championship before center Sylvia Fowles forced a trade from Chicago to the Lynx in 2015, enhancing the ensemble that then produced the 2015 and 2017 titles and yet another finals appearance.
The numbers? Four championships, two finals appearances and six conference finals during a 7-year run. This run qualified the Lynx for the title of “dynasty.” So, with all of this in mind, why question Reeve’s place in that success? Because much of the talent the Lynx acquired came because of franchise’s previous ineptitude, and it’s unclear what role Reeve played in those acquisitions.
For much of Reeve’s tenure with the Lynx, Roger Griffith served as the team’s general manager and executive vice president. True, Griffith is the son-in-law of team owner Glen Taylor, and his background is in publishing, but it wasn’t until 2018 that Reeve assumed the GM role, so for those outside the team, we don’t know what role she played in the roster makeover and resulting run of on-court success. Now, we’re about to find out.
Everyone knew Lindsay Whalen couldn’t play forever, so her retirement at the end of the 2018 season was no surprise. However, losing Brunson to concussion syndrome was unexpected, as was Maya Moore’s decision to take a year off to focus on her family and her ministry dreams. Reeve tried to get Moore to reconsider, but when Maya made it clear that she was going to walk away for at least a year, at the peak of her career, Reeve was nothing but supportive. Then, Reeve rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
Danielle Robinson returns from 2018’s season-ending foot injury to take over point guard from Whalen. Reeve acquired shooting guard Odyssey Sims from the L.A. Sparks and center Alaina Coates from the Chicago Sky. Reeve then sent a draft pick to Connecticut for guard Lexi Brown, reacquired Brazilian center Damaris Dontas from Atlanta and forward Stephanie Talbot from Phoenix. These players, along with free-agent forward Karima Christmas-Kelly, who has yet to play in 2019 due to injury, and 2019 draft picks Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard, have added 8 new faces to a roster that limped into the 2018 playoffs looking old and tired, with a record of just 18-wins and 16-losses.
There are currently six head coach/GM’s in the WNBA, yet only two of them are women. It’s time for Cheryl Reeve to be recognized not just as a great women’s basketball coach, but simply as a great basketball coach AND general manager, worthy of a similar position with any team, regardless of sex. For that to happen, she just needs the re-tooled Lynx to just keep on winning.