For the Minnesota Lynx, the major storyline of the early season is more about how well they fare despite who is not on the court rather than who is there.
With star Maya Moore sitting out the 2019 season, the Lynx move on without her starting Saturday night against the visiting Chicago Sky.Following three straight trips to the WNBA Finals, and two titles, Minnesota fell back to earth in 2018. The Lynx finished 18-16 and lost to Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.
Then in February, Moore (18.4 career points per game), the four-time WNBA champion, five-time All-Star and 2014 league MVP, announced she would not play this season to focus more time to family and an apparent ministry career.
"We support her in this exploration, and will continue to provide her love and care she has always known from the Lynx family," coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said in a statement at the time of Moore's announcement.
In addition to Moore's break, veteran guard Lindsay Whalen has retired and the status of forward Rebekkah Brunson (concussion) is uncertain. However, the Lynx still have stars in Sylvia Fowles (17.7 ppg, 11.9 rebounds per game in 2018) and Seimone Augustus (10.8 ppg), and first-round pick Napheesa Collier (20.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.5 assists per game for UConn in 2018-19).
A recent survey of WNBA general managers did not give Minnesota much love in terms of being a title contender this season. But that doesn't seem to bother Reeve.
"I don't care," she told the club's official website. "That's simply put much nicer than what I would say.
"We've got so much work to do as a team to play well, so that's our focus."
The focus for the Sky is simply to get back to the playoffs after missing out the last two years under coach Amber Stocks. She's been replaced by former Lynx assistant James Wade, also the new GM.
"We're going to focus on spacing the floor and moving the ball, playing with rhythm, playing pace, and we're going to make you have to guard us," Wade told the Sky's official website after selecting Connecticut star Katie Lou Samuelson and Baylor guard Chloe Jackson in the first two rounds of the WNBA Draft.
Chicago also has veterans in Allie Quigley (15.4 ppg), Diamond DeShields (14.4 ppg), Courtney Vandersloot (12.5 ppg, 8.6 apg) and Cheyenne Parker (10.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) to help the new girls transition to the pro game and play the kind of offensive game Wade wants.
However, if the Sky are to be a serious competitor for a playoff spot, they must improve a defense that allowed a league-worst average of 90.1 points while going 13-21 in 2018.
Chicago, though, won two of three against Minnesota last season.