Whalen ready to chase another title after resting during offseason
ST. PAUL — In the first few weeks after the Lynx lost the WNBA championship by a single point in October, point guard Lindsay Whalen wished she had joined so many other professional women's basketball players overseas, where a larger paycheck and another basketball season await.
But for the second straight year, after nine consecutive playing internationally, the 34-year-old Minnesotan took the offseason off in an attempt to return to the Lynx refreshed and ready to go.
So while questions about the Lynx's 77-76 championship loss to the Los Angeles Sparks followed her pretty much everywhere she went in the Twin Cities during the offseason, Whalen headed for Phoenix in the fall to visit her sister and ease the pain of defeat.
"I had to get out of here so I wouldn't see people and talk about it," Whalen said. "I couldn't watch sports, believe it or not, for awhile, and you guys know how big a sports fan I am. ... Maybe for the first couple weeks it would've been easier to go focus on something else right away, but I'm still ultimately glad that I stayed back and didn't go overseas."
Whalen bucked the trend of top WNBA players a year ago by sacrificing the international money that many players use to supplement their more modest earnings stateside.
After playing a career-low 29 games for the Lynx in 2015, she opted against playing overseas with hopes that avoiding a year-round schedule would lead to more WNBA success.
Well rested last season, Whalen made 51.3 percent of her shots, the best field goal percentage of her 13-year career — and up from 46.2 percent shooting in 2015.
"If you go back and look at 2015 and look at her now, I think you'll see the benefits," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
The decision to skip international play is one few WNBA players make, largely because of the lucrative contracts top players can receive.
That's part of why Reeve hopes WNBA players soon will earn more money for playing here.
"I think it's time for decision-makers to step up with dollars," Reeve said. "It's not the league. The people sitting in the league office would love to pay every player $1 million. There's nobody in the league that doesn't want that. We don't have that because the people that are sitting behind the desks making decisions on sponsorship dollars (and) TV, those are the ones that need to step up. When they step up and the league revenue allows us to do that, every person in the league office will pay us $1 million. That's obviously a very layered issue."
Whalen's decision was made easier, she said, by the Lynx's success and her desire to chase another championship.
For a similar reason, Maya Moore, the Lynx's leading scorer last season, also skipped international play this offseason for the first time in her six-year career.
"We have a very successful team, so that plays a part, too," Whalen said. "But after being a little hurt and not playing as well as I wanted in 2015, I just wanted to be healthy. When you're hurt and in and out, it's hard to have as much fun. And I wanted to really enjoy the years that I have to play. It was kind of a tough decision, but kind of not. Now more players are making that decision, too."
Before Thursday's Lynx practice, their fifth of this training camp leading to a May 14 season opener at the Xcel Energy Center, Reeve told Whalen, who turns 35 next week, that the winter breaks are helping her game.
"Just think in five years how good she'll be," Reeve said, "if she keeps taking offseasons off."