Even though the Minnesota Lynx missed the WNBA finals in 2014 – the first time they'd fallen short of that mark in four years – the squad heads into the WNBA regular season Friday night with high expectations.
Heck, even the Lynx's competition expects them to dominate.
In the annual WNBA general managers poll, two-thirds of GMs picked the Lynx as the most likely team to win the title; the same percentage picked Maya Moore as the most likely player to win MVP; and more than half of the GMs picked Cheryl Reeve as the best head coach.
Minnesota returns its main corps of stars.
There's Moore, the 25-year-old wing who won MVP and led the league in scoring last year. At point guard, veteran Lindsay Whalen, who returns after notching 5.5 assists per game in 2014, second-best in the league. Then you've got Seimone Augustus, the savvy vet and second-leading scorer on the team with 16.5 points per game last season. Plus Rebekkah Brunson, whose 8.2 rebounds and 7.2 points each game last year provided a reliable inside presence.
The biggest loss was starting center Janel McCarville. But the Lynx added 6-foot-2 veteran forward Asjha Jones, plus equally-as-tall rookie Reshanda Gray to help shore up the frontcourt.
Are the Lynx getting old?
There are questions. The one thing everyone seems focused on is age.
Whlaen (33), Augustus (31), and Brunson (33) are all viewed as on the last legs of their prime at this point.
That makes the time now for Minnesota, the Associated Press writes. When asked about how long the team could continue to compete at a high level with their current building blocks, Augustus told AP: ''We just don't know how long. It could be three, five years, who knows.
"It depends on your mental and physical state," she added. "... We have goals we want to accomplish before we take our shoes off and hang them up on our trophy cases."
Age was the crux of this Star Tribune piece – and the players sense the window will close sooner rather than later. But they told the paper they plan to get as much out of their time and talent as they can.
“We play knowing this isn’t going to last forever," Moore said. "We want to make sure there are no regrets.”
No regrets would certainly mean more titles.
This year, the team's road there will be a bit easier as Phoenix, the team that toppled Minnesota in the conference finals, is without its best player, Diana Taurasi. The 32-year-old is sitting out the season to rest, as she focuses on the higher-paying overseas women's professional basketball leagues.
Because of that, "the balance of power appears to have tilted back to Minnesota, which avoided offseason drama and will be seeking its third WNBA championship," ESPN's Sylvia Fowles writes.
The regular season begins Friday night at 7 p.m. for the Lynx, who host the Tulsa Shock at the Target Center.