The WNBA began it’s 20th season recently. Over the past two decades the league, and the women’s game in general, has evolved at a rapid pace. The defending champion Lynx meanwhile, are seeking their 4th title in six years. If they are to reach that goal and also repeat for the first time, they will take an unfamiliar route. The league radically altered the playoff landscape in 2016 with a new format.
Instead of the top four teams in each conference playing best-of-three series until the best-of-five Finals, the league’s top eight teams, regardless of conference will make the postseason. The top two teams will receive a bye into the semifinals and the 3rd and 4th seeds will automatically move to the quarterfinals. The bottom four teams will play a single-elimination round to face the 3rd and 4th where there is another one-game playoff. The semifinals and finals will be best-of-five.
Get all that? If not, basically, you want one of the top two seeds to avoid the pitfalls of a single-game elimination situation. That puts even more emphasis on the regular season for a veteran team like the Lynx, who may be tempted to look ahead.
I caught up with Seimone Augustus, the heart and soul of the Lynx Dynasty, recently to discuss this format and a lot more. As usual, the 32-year-old was candid and enlightening.
DZ: You are in your 11th season, the league has been around 20 seasons. You’ve been around over half the time. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
AUGUSTUS: The players are getting a lot better. It’s a more competitive league. For me, the organization has gotten a lot better from 2006 to now. The way we conduct business, from the way the league has progressed as far as promotion and marketing. We are starting to accept the LBGT community and other facets of our fan base that maybe we didn’t accept early on in our careers. It’s good to see the growth that’s going on.
DZ: You guys are a veteran team, champions. What do you do this early in the season to keep your focus, keep it fun when you have such lofty goals?
AUGUSTUS: It’s fun anytime we return to Minnesota. I think we wait ‘til like April when we are overseas and we know it’s almost time to get back here. Once we get here it’s about business, but…I think the veteran players we know our window is closing so we want to kind of maximize the time we have together. We just kind of come out and enjoy each other. With the new playoff format, we really don’t have time to play games, we have to take care of business early so we can hopefully secure one of those top two seeds.
DZ: Does (the playoff format) give you extra motivation early in the season?
AUGUSTUS: It gives a different perspective to things, but the way we approach the games is the same way we approached them when we had the old format. It puts a little bit more emphasis on the regular season games that we have.
DZ: You guys have won championships and now you are trying to hold what you have instead of going to get something. Is that a different kind of stress or pressure?
AUGUSTUS: It’s all the same. Any kind of pressure or stress is the same. It causes chaos, makes you lose hairs (laughs). I think we embrace it because we have been in this position for the last five or six years, dealing with the success that we’ve had. We would rather have the bull’s-eye on our backs rather than trying take someone else down or knock someone else off the top of the hill. We enjoy being in this position and hopefully we can take care of business and stay here.
DZ: With you knee (issues), how has your body maintenance schedule changed last couple of years?
AUGUSTUS: I am barely eating (laughs). No, but I am more conscious about what I eat, just trying to keep my weight down. From listening to the trainers, every pound of weight that I lose is two or three pounds of pressure off my knee. I am trying to maintain a consistent weight, but most importantly, when it’s time to take off, take off. Get the treatment that you need, so you can be mentally and physical prepared. When I am in the games or in practice, get it done. Be intense, be focused. It’s going to be short and sweet. Coach has kind of altered everything to make sure her veteran players will have more quality minutes this season.
DZ: Are you guys like the Spurs now, basically?
AUGUSTUS: Basically (laughs). Hopefully we don’t have the collapse that they did, but as far as the way she coaches and perspective of everything, it’s kind of like the Spurs.
DZ: I saw that Candice Wiggins retired, one of you early teammates here. Seeing someone that you played with, that’s a little younger than you retire; how did that hit you?
AUGUSTUS: A little shocked, but her excuse was that she lost passion for the game. She wasn’t in love with the game anymore, and at that point I think we all know that once you lose that, it’s time to let it go. The game has definitely done her well, she had a great college career, a great professional career. She left accomplishing a lot of the goals that she set out to accomplish.
DZ: How about your role on the team? What is it? How do you see it?
AUGUSTUS: The same. We have four leaders on this team. I am the one that is a little bit more vocal. More animated. The one that keeps the cool, the calm. When (Coach) Reeve is biting everyone’s heads off, I am the one who comes in and kind of cleans up the mess and smooths it back out. Most importantly, just being there, just keeping everything intact. I think everyone is like, “When ‘Mone’s around, we know everything is in the right order.” I just try to keep that role.
DZ: In the Olympics, you are going for gold medal number three, did you ever consider not playing? Was that a tough decision for you?
AUGUSTUS: The Olympics?! Noooo. I was just telling somebody yesterday, that I got cut three times before (I finally made Team USA). It’s not easy to make a USA team. I don’t care if you are making a Youth 18 team or some of the younger teams; it’s very hard to make a team…I didn’t know if I would ever make one Olympic team. I am on my third. I am thankful to be in this position, I am glad I got the phone call.
DZ: Your career has progressed and so has your life. You are married now, settled down, how has that kind of changed your outlook on life?
AUGUSTUS: It’s the same. I mean, my wife has had a chance to travel with me. She has been on this grind, so she understands everything. That kind of helps, as opposed to if she didn’t understand the grind that might cause a little chaos. Nothing has really changed. She is at every game. She comes on the road from time-to-time. It’s the maturity aspect of it, just knowing that you have to take care of yourself and someone else.