Superteams may be the talk of the 2023 WNBA season, but a different phenomenon more aptly describes what the league is experiencing top-down at the moment: a changing of the guard.
All-time greats Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired last year—the former becoming synonymous with the Seattle Storm franchise, and the latter the last remaining relic from the Minnesota Lynx’s 2010 dynasty.
Other organizations also experienced sweeping changes. The 2021 champion Chicago Sky saw the departures of franchise veterans Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and hometown hero Candace Parker.
With the “new” with the “old” — in this case, new faces. The Storm and Sky have turned to their longest-serving players: JaVell Loyd, the 2015 No. 1 draft pick, and Kahleh Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP. The Lynx have handed the baton to Nafisa Collier, the longtime successor to their 2019 first-round selection.
All three players are under 30. All three have been tabbed All-Stars. And now all three are looking to lead their franchises into their next chapters, whether competing for championships or building for the future.
Collier ushers in new era for Lynx
The Lynx won four championships between 2011 and 2017 and have become one of the most successful franchises in league history. That era officially came to a close after last season as all of the icons behind that run – Fouls, Maya Moore, Simone Augustus, Lindsay Whelan and Rebecca Brunson – retired.
Collier has been tapped for some time as the next player to lead the Lynx franchise. The UConn Huskies grad and Tokyo Olympian has been an All-Star in every full WNBA season, and she dropped to fifth in MVP voting when the league doesn’t hold the event in 2020.
Collier missed most of the 2022 campaign after giving birth to daughter, Mila, in late May, but returned to the court with fouls for the last time, appearing in Minnesota’s final four regular-season contests.
Things are different without fouls. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve implemented a new offensive system based on spacing and attack. And now more than ever, the organization is emphasizing that its priority is not winning now, but future growth.
But giving up on Minnesota’s championship standard entirely isn’t an option either.
“Obviously it’s a dynasty organization, so to have it on my shoulders now, I definitely take it seriously,” Collier said. “I want to appreciate the people who came before me and want to make sure I’m leading the team in the right direction.”
“He’s been groomed for the passing of the baton, the leadership baton, and I think he’s really ready for it this time.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve on Nafisa Collier
Collier isn’t the only vet on the team, but she is the only captain. It is the first time in Reeve’s tenure that multiple players have not been assigned a role.
Collier is incorporating elements of what she learned from Augustus, Fowles and past coaches into her leadership approach. Even “The Last Dance” documentary served as some inspiration: Collier assures she doesn’t want to take Michael Jordan’s aggressive approach to holding his teammates accountable, but sees its importance. .
Reeve said, “I think this has been going on for him for four years.” “I think he’s been groomed for the passing of the baton, the leadership baton, and I think he’s really ready at the moment.”
Copper, Sky still look to compete
Kahleh drops 8 points in a row for Copper Skies
Kahleh Copper is automatic as she knocks down three baskets in a row to increase Sky’s lead.
Less than two years ago, Kahleh Copper was part of a stacked roster that won Chicago’s first championship. The Sky were contenders for a repeat in 2022, before suffering a shocking semifinal elimination loss at home to the Connecticut Sun.
Within months, Copper – who had re-signed with Chicago on a two-year deal through February 2022 – was the only remaining player from the Sky’s core: Vanderloot, Parker and Azura Stevens had signed with different teams as free agents. While Quigley and Emma Meesman opted not to play in the WNBA this year.
Rather than opting to rebuild, general manager/head coach James Wade sought to build a team around Copper that could contend for championships. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights product took on the role of assistant GM during free agency, as he helped Wade build a team that included Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Isabelle Harrison.
“You couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
Sky Coach James Wade on the Kahleh Copper
In previous Sky squads, Copper took a backseat role in leadership given the experience and stature of the greats alongside him. Adapting to this new position, he admitted early in training camp, is “tough”, but not something he isn’t prepared for.
Copper sees herself as a natural leader, someone who can relate to players still working to find their place in the league despite their current stardom — after all, she could have played a role herself a long time ago. Was a player And on the team that many have discussed as having strong personalities, Copper says she encourages her teammates to be themselves.
She absorbed leadership qualities from the likes of Parker and Vandersloot, but sees this as a new chapter in Chicago Sky basketball — and “there’s nothing wrong with new,” she said.
Wade said, “The communication has been really good, me understanding him, him understanding me and the staff and what we’re trying to do and what vision we have.” “She’s been really good at executing it and explaining that the players around her are new and helping them get situated. So you couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
Lloyd Young leads the Storm
This season was always going to be a year of transition for the Storm once Bird announced she was retiring at the end of the 2022 campaign. The new era solidified when two-time Finals MVP, Breanna Stewart, opted to sign with the New York Liberty in February.
Jewell Loyd isn’t the only vet in Seattle: In free agency, the Storm brought back Sami Whitcomb, who was part of their recent title-winning teams, and they still have Mercedes Russell, who will retire through 2022 due to health issues. Missed the majority but has been in Seattle since 2018.
But with Loyd the only remaining member of the Big Three that defined Storm basketball during two championships in three seasons, the former Notre Dame great is the new face of the franchise.
Seattle and Loyd got a taste of what that would look like in 2019, when Stewart and Bird missed the entire season with injuries. And even with both of them on the floor, Loyd — a four-time All-Star, two-time All-WNBA selection and Tokyo Olympian — has often taken and made big shots in big moments.
This year will be different, even though more than half of the Storm’s roster is comprised of players with three or fewer years of experience. Lloyd knows she will shoulder a greater offensive load without sacrificing efficiency, and her perimeter defense remains critical.
Loyd, as was the case with Copper and Collier, know one thing for sure: They can’t try to replicate the old guard in how they operate on the court and even how they lead. The best way is to be the best version of yourself as players and leaders and put your stamp on your organizations.
Loyd said, “I came into the league with a team full of vets… I’ve seen what leadership looks like from different people, different perspectives.” “I’m not Sue, I’m not Stevie, I’m not AC. This is a little different for me. I’ve been in this position before. I didn’t have to do it here, but I’m definitely ready for it.” And I’m excited for it.”