WARNING — Those who have recently complained that I am too negative about the Minnesota Lynx or that I write too much about race, and who can’t stand honest non-bandwagon analysis, please stop reading.
It’s been one day since the Minnesota Lynx became the first local pro team since 1991 to have a parade in their honor in downtown Minneapolis.
They also became the first WNBA team since 2009 to have a Black coach (Assistant Coach Shelly Patterson) stand on the winning podium; the first Black player since 2008 to win Finals MVP (Seimone Augustus); and the first major league champion to have a Black league president (WNBA President Laurel Richie) hand over the championship trophy.
I have seen the team evolve from an expansion team whose revolving-door-like rosters annually gave fans false hope, to four head coaches who for whatever reason came and went over the course of three years, and now to this year’s last team standing.
Nonetheless, the 2011 Lynx finished as champions because of several “if’s”:
Fact one: If Sacramento hadn’t gone out of business in late 2009, 2011 All-Defensive First Team Rebekkah Brunson would not be here.
Fact two: If the Connecticut Sun had made the playoffs last year, Minnesota wouldn’t have gotten extra ping-pong balls in the 2010 lottery.
Fact three: If Minnesota’s luck hadn’t struck again for the second consecutive fall, the team would not have picked first in the 2011 Draft.
Fact four: If this year’s overall pick hadn’t been so easy that both Stevie Wonder and the late Ray Charles could clearly see who to pick, wrong choices might have resulted.
And fact five: If there had not been a lottery, then 2011 Rookie of the Year Maya Moore would have been in Tulsa, which with the previous year’s worst overall record would have had first pick.
For all the bandwagon undeserved back-patting given some around the Lynx organization for this year’s historic run, the simple truth is that, along with solid talent that clicked, pure luck rightfully deserves some credit.
Especially when, actually, the Lynx’s turnaround from almost-was to champions began on Don Zierden’s watch (2007-08). He inherited a club decimated by one of the worst trades in history (Katie Smith to Detroit for virtually nothing), a second-year player in Augustus, and a bunch of others not cut out as professional ball players.
He only won 26 games in two seasons, but Zierden also created a standard of professionalism in Lynxland and drafted better players, such as Candice Wiggins and Charde Houston. That set the stage three years later upon which Minnesota stood last Friday in Atlanta.
As a result, there should be no more questions on who the Lynx’s franchise player is, regardless of some folk who prefer that she not be. Augustus truly stands out as the face of the team; she was named Finals MVP.
Additionally, Minnesota had an inside presence in Brunson and signed a Sam Mitchell-like free agent in Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who provided veteran leadership. This lessened that load on Augustus and Lindsay Whalen so that they could focus more on playing. And the reserves unit quietly accepted their roles and prided themselves more on effort than stats and clock.
The Lynx won this year because they became more dedicated to defense, especially Augustus, who often demanded the assignment to guard the opposing team’s best player whenever needed.
They finally found that swagger that championship clubs must have — even though the Lynx drove you nuts for three quarters to take control at last in the final 10 minutes.
In all three games of the 2011 Finals, Minnesota trailed each contest at the half, and except for last Friday’s closeout game, at the end of three quarters, save for a tie in Game One. Then they played Vanessa Williams’ ball and saved the best for last.
Minnesota deserved the title, but it is way premature to start talking dynasty or repeating. Only two teams (Houston and Los Angeles) ever repeated as WNBA champions the following season. Instead, this columnist strongly suggests that the Lynx brain trust not follow the Minnesota Twins’ typical way of standing pat during the off-season.
The Lynx need a true backup point guard. They need another flat-out scorer off the bench to relieve Augustus, or complement her on the court. They also need another beast in the middle to complement Brunson; if that is rookie Amber Harris, then she must improve her practice habits and become more consistent.
They also need Moore to develop more as a slasher — that will make her even better along with learning how to avoid early fouls.
Minnesota also must solve the Houston issue: seven regular-season DNP-CDs (did not play — coach’s decision), and one of two players who didn’t see a second of action in the Finals. Either find a spot for the fourth-year forward or make a trade and get someone else who better fits in.
Congrats to the champions! But please don’t rest on your laurels, because defending a title is often harder than winning one.
Photo: Lynx fans show their love. (By Sophia Hantzes)