Superteams may be the talk of the 2023 WNBA season, but another phenomenon perfectly describes the league’s top-down situation right now: the changing of the guard.
Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired last year – their predecessors were the same as Seattle Storm permission, and the last was a remnant from the Minnesota LynxThe lineage of the 2010s.
Other organizations have also made significant changes. 2021 competition Chicago Sky saw the departure of franchise defenders Courtney VanderslootAllie Quigley is a hometown hero Candace Parker.
Out is the “old,” in is the “new” — in this case, new faces. Storm and Sky turn to their longest-serving players to take on the mantle: Jewell Lloyd2015 no. 1 prepare to choose, and Kahleh Copper, 2021 Finals MVP. Lynx passed the baton to the former heir Napheesa Colliertheir 2019 first round pick.
All three players are under 30. All three were named All-Stars. And now all three look to take their franchises forward in their next chapters, whether they’re competing for the championship or building for the future.
Collier will start a new season for the Lynx
The Lynx won four championships between 2011 and 2017 to become one of the most decorated franchises in league history. That moment came at the end of last season when all the icons in the backfield — Fowles, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson — retired.
Collier has long been touted as the next player to lead the Lynx franchise. The UConn Huskies grad and Tokyo Olympian has been an All-Star in every WNBA season she’s played, and when the league failed to host the event in 2020, she finished fifth in MVP voting.
Collier missed most of the 2022 campaign after giving birth to a daughter, Mila, in late May, but returned to take the court with Fowles one last time, appearing in the final four seasons in Minnesota.
Things are different without Fowles. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has implemented a new style of offense that relies on tension and attack. And now more than ever, the organization emphasizes that the most important thing is not success now but future development.
But completely abandoning the Minnesota race is not an option.
“Obviously this is a royalty, so for that to be on my shoulders now, I’m taking it seriously,” Collier said. “I want to thank the people who came before me and make sure I lead the team in the right direction.”
“He’s been prepared to pass the baton, the baton of leadership, and I think he’s ready at this point.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve on Napheesa Collier
Collier is not the only vet on the team, but he is the only captain. This is the first time in Reeve’s tenure that multiple players have not been awarded the title.
Collier incorporates things he learned from Augustus, Fowles and previous coaches into his leadership style. Even the text of “The Last Dance” is encouraging: Collier proves that he doesn’t want to think too much about how Michael Jordan took it to answer his friends, but he sees its importance.
“I feel like this has been four years in the making for him,” Reeve said. “I think he’s been groomed to pass the baton, the baton of leadership, and I think he’s ready at this point.”
Copper, Sky seems to be struggling
Less than two years ago, Kahleah Copper was part of the team that won the first championship in Chicago. Sky were in contention for a repeat in 2022 before suffering a heartbreaking defeat in the final at home to Connecticut Sun.
In a few months, Copper – who re-signed with Chicago on a two-year contract in February 2022 – was the only player left of the Sky’s core: Vandersloot, Parker and Azura Stevens signed with various teams as assistants, while Quigley and Emma Meesseman chose not to play in the WNBA this year.
Instead of choosing to rebuild, general manager/head coach James Wade wanted to build a team around Copper that could compete for the championship. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights recruit who served as assistant GM during free agency helped Wade build a team with new additions. Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Isabelle Harrison.
“You couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
Sky coach James Wade on Kahleah Copper
In previous Sky teams, Copper took on a greater leadership role given the experience and stature of the greats at his side. Taking on this new role, he admitted at the start of training camp, “is difficult,” but not something he wasn’t prepared for.
Copper sees himself as a natural leader, someone who despite his background can connect with players who are still working to find their place in the league – after all, he was a former player himself. And on a team that is said to have many strong personalities, Copper says he encourages his teammates to be themselves.
He inherited the leadership of Parker and Vandersloot, but sees himself as the new head of Chicago Sky basketball — and “there’s nothing wrong with new,” he said.
“Communication has been good, understanding him, understanding me and the staff and what we’re trying to do and the vision we have,” Wade said. “He’s done a great job of doing that and explaining the new players and helping them settle in. So you couldn’t ask for a better manager.”
Loyd leads the young Storm
This season will always be a transition year for the Storm after Bird announced his retirement at the end of the 2022 campaign. Breanna StewartThe two-time Finals MVP, chose to sign with New York Liberty in February.
Jewell Loyd isn’t the only vet in Seattle: In free agency the Storm has returned Sami Whitcombwho were among their most recent winners, and still are Mercedes Russellwho missed most of 2022 due to health issues but has been in Seattle since 2018.
But with Loyd remaining a member of the Big Three that defined Storm basketball during his two-game winning streak in three seasons, the former Notre Dame senior is the new face of the franchise.
Seattle and Loyd got a taste of what that might look like in 2019, when Stewart and Bird missed the entire season with injuries. And even with those two down, Loyd — a four-time All-Star, two-time WNBA selection and Tokyo Olympian — often takes, and makes, big shots in big moments.
This year will be different though, with more than half of the Storm’s roster consisting of players who are three years old or younger. Loyd knows that he will be carrying a lot of baggage without doing anything, and that his safety is still important.
Loyd, like Copper and Collier, knows one thing for sure: He won’t try to copy the old guard in the way he works on the court and the way he leads. The best way is to be more flexible as players and leaders and put their stamp on their organizations.
“I came into the league with a team full of vets… I’ve seen what leadership looks like from different people, in different ways,” said Loyd. “I’m not Sue, I’m not Stewie, I’m not AC. It comes a little differently to me. I’ve been there before. I didn’t have to do it here, but I’m. I’m definitely ready and I’m happy about it.”