File this away in case she changes her mind, but Seimone Augustus of the Lynx insisted Thursday she will never, ever be a coach. Not a chance. She reinforced it with one of those classic Seimone faces, a smiling, don’t-even-go-there expression punctuated with a laugh.
But when your right knee aches and you undergo surgery and you can’t play for nine weeks, and your mostly new teammates struggle to grasp the playbook, you contribute where you can. Unable to show them the way by her play — her preferred method of leadership — Augustus, one of the WNBA’s all-time greats, did the only thing she could. She talked. Instructed. Cajoled.
“I’ve never been the biggest vocal leader,” said Augustus, 35. “I was always one that did a little bit of both, but more leading by example. So now, everybody’s like, `You could be a coach, I saw that, you have da-da-da-da. And I’m like, ah, nah, nah, nah. I do that because I have to. I do that because I want to see our team get to where we need to be as far as playing Lynx basketball.”
They aren’t there yet.
Presence gave teammates confidence and stability
The 11-11 Lynx played decently last Tuesday night in Augustus’ season debut, winning 85-69 in Atlanta to end a four-game losing streak. Treading carefully, the Lynx medical staff limited Augustus to stretches of three to four minutes at a time. Her statistics weren’t eye-popping — eight points, four assists and two steals in 21 minutes — but her presence gave the Lynx badly needed confidence and stability.
Twice Augustus found her old LSU teammate, Sylvia Fowles, for easy baskets inside, rekindling a connection Fowles’ teammates are still trying to establish. The Lynx trailed by 11 midway through the third quarter and by four with 7:45 to play, but a 3-pointer by Augustus started a decisive run of 17 consecutive points. Emerging rookie star Napheesa Collier dominated the second half, scoring 18 of her 22 points en route to a double-double — “Phee put the team on her back,” Coach Cheryl Reeve said — but Augustus offered an education in veteran savvy and swagger.
“She was obviously what the team needed,” Reeve said of Augustus. “She was showing them. After all these games where we’re trying to tell players what we’re trying to do, Seimone just goes and does it.
‘Play basketball, play simple basketball’
“Seimone is preaching to the players, play basketball, play simple basketball. She’s such a veteran and seen so much that the game is easy for her. That’s what she was doing in that moment.”
For the Lynx, this season has been anything but simple, and unlike any other. It began without any of the Core Four, the captains responsible for the four NBA titles — Lindsay Whalen (retired), Maya Moore (sabbatical), Rebekkah Brunson (post-concussion symptoms) and the injured Augustus. Season-ending knee injuries to veteran Karima Christmas-Kelly and rookie Jessica Shepard ravaged the team’s depth.
No matter how the rest of the season plays out, the projected starting lineup of Christmas-Kelly, Damiris Dantas, Fowles, Augustus and Danielle Robinson will never play a single minute together. That’s tough to overcome. Reeve said the players seem to like and care about each other, but the on-court togetherness so obvious in the championship years comes and goes.
Robinson, tabbed by Reeve to replace Whalen, struggled running the offense. Getting the ball into Fowles became a problem. So did closing out games. Turnovers persisted. The Lynx blew a 22-point lead June 25 at Indiana before rallying to win, but weren’t so fortunate in a return trip to Indianapolis last Saturday, going up 20 and losing for the first time in franchise history. (The Lynx were 123-0 when leading by 20.)
Through it all, Augustus offered wisdom and guidance. On July 17 against Seattle, when an angry Reeve stormed out of timeout huddle because her players wouldn’t follow the defensive game plan, Augustus stepped in and calmly took over. Other times Augustus grew as frustrated as Reeve, scrunching up what she called her “parent face” and scolding players for missing assignments.
‘There’s not a more loyal person’
“She was incredible in those times she was out,” Reeve said. “We say, bite off as much as you want to chew, and she took a big bite and was just so valuable. Still is. And just gives of herself. There’s not a more loyal person in this organization. We’ve had some real loyal people. That’s not a swipe at anybody else. It’s just that Seimone is just unbelievable in the way that she gives of herself.”
Augustus returns precisely when the Lynx most need someone who knows what they’re doing and can get the ball to Fowles, their best offensive threat. The Lynx are 1-1 after the first two games of an eight-game stretch that may determine whether they can rise from eighth to a better playoff seed. Six are on the road, with the only Target Center dates featuring the WNBA’s best teams, Connecticut (16-6) on Friday and Washington (15-7) on Aug. 16.
“I don’t know what to expect, I’ll be really honest with you,” Reeve said. “I didn’t expect the tough stretch we just faced. We’re in the midst of a difficult part of our schedule. We’ve just got to hang in there.”
Twice in her career, Augustus reinvented herself. When Reeve became Lynx coach and asked her to be the team’s shutdown defender, Augustus assumed the role brilliantly. And when Fowles arrived and Augustus’ knees became more and more problematic, she turned facilitator, unselfishly finding others while shooting and scoring less.
By her count, Augustus has had three surgeries on each knee. The latest, by team physician Dr. Nancy Cummings on May 30, completed a procedure that regenerated cartilage in her right knee. Augustus hopes that allows her to finish this season and next before retiring. With the Core Four down to a Core One, Augustus knows what her team needs — someone to speak up and play big, even in limited minutes.
“Our team is shy,” Augustus said. “It’s crazy that a lot of the players that we have really don’t communicate a lot. They communicate in very low tones. Even when they’re on defense, they’re out there playing, they’re like, `Help.’ And I’m like, you’ve got to be more aggressive.
“That’s where I kind of come in. I’m like, let her know you’re back there, let your teammate know that you’re supporting her on defense. And on offense, if you’ve got a mismatch, you’ve got to yell out and say you’ve got a mismatch.”