Minnesota Lynx introduce Aerial Powers at press conference

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

It was a deal that was reported on around the outset of this year’s free agency period, but was not announced officially by the team until recently.

Cheryl Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx front office had already made a couple of splashes earlier this free agency period by luring in Kayla McBride from the Las Vegas Aces and Natalie Achonwa from the Indiana Fever, both indications that Reeve has fully embraced the “reload, not rebuild” mindset to her team.

This was validated after what the Lynx accomplished last season in the bubble – advancing to the WNBA’s semifinals.

Then, the Lynx announced that a surge in “Power” was on its way to Minnesota.

What was so appealing to us with Aerial was way more than basketball. We talked about how dynamic she is on the court, but she’s dynamic and there’s a great deal of depth to who AP is. An avid gamer, very into e-sports and gaming, and … is into modeling. There’s a lot there and we just really enjoyed the process in getting to know her better. And we just see tremendous opportunity both on and off the court in terms of what we feel like we have to offer.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

After Reeve gave her opening remarks, Powers mentioned that Reeve was someone who she has always looked up to – even prior to her going pro.

Cheryl Reeve (has) been phenomenal in overcoming a lot of stuff. As far as a WNBA player and even before I even got to the WNBA, just looking at someone of her stature and all the championships she’s been able to achieve, I want to be a part of that. And I’m happy to be a part of it.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Powers mentioned that with a lot of teams, when someone important gets sidelined, it can derail a team’s entire season. She says she was enamored with how Minnesota went about things because of their ability to overcome and battle through adversity.

She saw this first hand as she was part of a Washington Mystics team that was sans several players – including Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders. The Mystics still made the playoffs, but players like Powers had to step up into those roles typically occupied by a Charles or a Delle Donne. Being without those players made it a tall task for Washington to defend its championship.

Her role may not be as much since she will be on a team with McBride, Achonwa, Sylvia Fowles, Lexie Brown, Damiris Dantas and the last two Rookies of the Year in Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield. Powers says she is ready for anything.

Whatever Coach needs me to do, I’ll do. Everyone knows I’m a scorer, I’m a passer now. I play really good defense in my opinion. So, when it comes to scoring, me and Coach talked about this. Hey, that’s going to be there … But where we need to get better is on the defensive end – stopping people. That’s what wins championships.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Powers is familiar with what wins championships given she was on a championship-winning team – the 2019 Mystics. This is in juxtaposition to Achonwa and McBride who are still in search of their first ring. She recalled when she began her career with the Dallas Wings and admitted that she was unsure of what were the elements necessary to win a championship.

Going to Washington made Powers realize a major element that is needed for any team that is looking to win a championship – culture.

What appealed to me most was – for her to do it four times, I don’t think people really realize how amazing that is. Not only do you have to have the right culture, but you have to have players that invest and trust in you – and that’s very hard. For me being (in) Dallas and then to DC, I saw a lot of different personalities. A lot of different personalities to the coaching staff to players. And the one thing that stuck out to me the most was culture.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Powers referred to Reeve as the “top dog” who will make sure that the winning culture the Lynx built throughout its glory years of the 2010s remains with this current crop of Minnesota players.

She only played six games in the bubble, but in those six games, she averaged over 16 points per game. But last season was far from where Reeve’s interest in Powers began. She says she has been drawn to her style of play dating back to when she was with Michigan State and particularly noticed the energy she brings to a team.

You see great joy when Aerial plays the game. And so, you enjoy watching someone play. And that particular year in the draft, we weren’t going to have a shot at AP. And then, ended up in Dallas … I was, I remember feeling disappointed when Aerial got traded to Washington because I didn’t know she was on the market and we would’ve loved to have a shot then to make an offer for her.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

Reeve was enamored with Powers prior to her being drafted into the WNBA and she says she has become even more enamored with her as she has seen how she has grown as a player – particularly being under the tutelage of Mike Thibault in Washington these past few seasons.

This is just great timing for us. Five years under our belt. She understands exactly what has to happen for our team to be successful.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

Reeve also highlighted that Powers does lots of the fundamental things that make great basketball players – including hustling on plays and shooting 3-pointers as well as defense and rebounding. Reeve also recalled a conversation in which Powers understood that a situation with Minnesota means putting “we” ahead of “me.”

When we had a conversation, I talked to AP about her possible teammates. And I believe she actually came out of her chair with excitement that – the possibility of playing with other great players and that’s meaningful to me because she doesn’t think she has to do it all herself. And the fact that … she welcomes the idea that you have to have multiple really good players to be successful.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

When asked about if there was something specific that caught Powers attention to the point where it made her think Minnesota was where she needed to play, she says it was not simply one thing that enabled her to be confident in her decision.

I’ve talked to many coaches, right, throughout my life. And the only coach that really, really, I had a really good connection with … that I can say for sure was Coach Merchant, Michigan State.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Powers believes that her conversations with Reeve was so productive to where it reminded her of her old coach at Michigan State. Reeve says she already knew plenty about Powers which is why she went all in on trying to attract her to Minnesota. Some of that knowledge can come from the college days or from playing against her.

You watch other players and you go, who do I not like to play against, you want them on your team. And so, then I think when we identified Aerial as somebody that we really wanted to have as part of our team, our staff just immersed ourselves into understanding what Aerial is about because, first and foremost, we want to make sure we’re continuing to uphold the culture of the Minnesota Lynx. That’s what has buoyed our franchise. We want to make sure that she would be a fit.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

Reeve echoed what Powers said earlier in the conversations about the connection as she described those talks as “easy,” and that Reeve was “mad dope” and one of the “cool kids.” She also says she is a lot closer to the organization’s T-Wolves Gaming, which Powers will definitely have a key role with as well.

I learned a lot more about gaming than I ever thought I would.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

As for Powers, a hamstring injury derailed her 2020, but she says she is ready to go for 2021.

Everybody that plays sports knows – hamstring is like a nagging injury if anything, you just have to keep working on it, but it didn’t take me long after the bubble season to get right back into playing. Just while we were in a bubble, the games were almost back to back. And it was so because you’re missing so many games in a week, that it’s like, oh you might as well just chill and rest and get your body ready.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

As far as the free agency process is concerned, there is definitely more to said process than meets the eye for anyone going through it. For Powers, it was a new experience because it was the first time she has ever been a free agent and she wanted to make the right decision for herself and for her career. Powers feels confident that she made the right decision after mulling signing with the Lynx for a while after mentally deciding that Minnesota was where she wanted to play next.

Powers was also asked about how she will contribute to the ongoing social justice conversation – particularly in Minnesota, the state that last year became the epicenter of that conversation after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The Minnesota Lynx (are) very persistent in their voices, I am going to be the same. We all feel that Black Lives Matter and because they do and if anything happens where I need to step up, I will step up, just like I have been and all of us have been in the WNBA for the bubble season.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Someone who is as much of an avid gamer as Powers is has to have thought about trying out for the 2K League. Right?


Of course.

The 2K League is like my family. Like I literally, when I heard about it, I just dove right into it, figured out everything I needed to figure out about it …

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

One of the things she wanted to change was the fact that the league had its first woman participate yet no women the following year. Powers wanted to change that.

I have that same love, whether it’s traditional basketball or it’s e-sports. I have that, but I think every basketball player that’s really into 2K has thought about trying for the league at one point in time. But, for me, those guys are super sick. I’m not at that level, I like to play for fun, but for me, it’s been cool to see that T-Wolves Gaming is a part of the Lynx and they share love. They share love for the organization and love for each other.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

A much-shared video within WNBA Twitter circles was when she was sent a custom-made Xbox controller by the Lynx. Powers saw that as a reflection of Minnesota learning as much as they could about her the gamer as well as the basketball player. She also reflected on a situation where she talked to a coach where said coach hinted at what she was doing e-sports wise, but did not ask further about that.

I kind of took that to offense, I’m like, how are you going to mention it, but then you, like, don’t know anything I’m doing and I’m doing a lot in this space … and it means something to me and I’m extremely passionate about it. And for Coach Reeve to see my passion and not only see my passion, but involve herself and become knowledgeable about it, that made it even more, duh AP, like, she’s into e-sports, she’s curious. And it doesn’t mean she has to love it, it doesn’t mean she has to like it. But the fact that she knows I’m into it and she wants to become more knowledgeable about it, it really hit home for me.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Something else also hit home for Powers – the WNBA’s progression itself in video games from being in NBA Live to the 2K franchise. She told a story of how she saw her father, who was not always the biggest 2K aficionado, one day playing 2K – and one of the players was herself.

Powers could barely believe it.

And some young girl, some little girl that never would have imagined seeing herself in a video game, that loves to play. Loves to play traditional sports and e-sports, she’s looking at me going, I like AP as a player, and I can also play her in a video game. This could be me. I could be the next Aerial Powers.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

The current Aerial Powers has unquestionably grown a lot since she first entered the league – as all players do as they progress. She mentioned this earlier in the presser, but she has taken account of her growth. One area she spotlighted between the Wings and Mystics was how ball movement was emphasized a lot more in Washington than it was with Dallas.

No offense to Dallas, but when I was in Dallas, and I’m being completely honest, I felt like when we passed it, we weren’t getting the ball back. And I felt like a lot of the girls felt that. So now, it’s like, oh I got it, I’m going to score, I got it. But when I got traded to the Mystics, I felt that sharing the rock was more – it was applaudable. People weren’t upset. It was like, yo, good pass, man. Nice shot.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

In the genre of e-sports, Powers wants to be an agent of change. She mentioned that women make up 48% of gamers, but wanted to get rid of any perceptions about the industry that it is male-dominated.

The problem, Powers says, is that women gamers are not as visible as male gamers. And she hopes to change that. One way she wants to do that is through her 2K tournament which will give a bigger platform to women gamers.

When Powers does get onto the court with her new Lynx teammates, she will be joining a team that, thanks to free agency, will have an interesting collection of both veterans and young talents. In addition to offense, she also brings a defensive presence, which is something she prides herself in doing.

A scenario she talked about is the possibility of her being able to switch to guarding another defender in the case of a pick and roll play an offense could be running.

I see me being able to help in a defensive manner that we’re being able to switch and defend and it’s hard for people to score on us … I’m a big girl … Like Coach Reeve said, I like to pride myself on being a big girl and I like to post up sometimes, but on the defensive end, I think switching will be a great fit.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

One thing that Powers recollected from her days playing the Minnesota Lynx is that teams attempting to drive to the basket or post up on Sylvia Fowles were going to have problems.

In my eyes, I think I’m a well-rebounding shooting guard. Which could also help because I know when I was playing against the Lynx, it’s like, shoot, you had to make your shot or you fight hard as hell to get that second rebound … And when it comes back down to defense, I think being able to rebound and help Napheesa, help Syl, help Dantas … help Natalie, it’s going to be huge.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

The past two seasons, teams playing the Lynx primarily had to worry about two players – Fowles and Collier. This was particularly the case in the 2019 season when Minnesota looked destined for a Collier-centric rebuild. The Lynx have since added Crystal Dangerfield through the draft in addition to the slew of free agency acquisitions and trades made this go-round. Reeve understands that this team is a lot more multidimensional than recent Minnesota renditions and that makes it more difficult to game plan against the Lynx.

As a rookie, it was hard to go into the bubble and to not get any rest, not to get any practice time, because in college, all you do is practice. You don’t play as many games. So, she’ll be even better. I think Crystal’s somebody that’s going to benefit from someone like AP who’s been through the growth process. She’s going to be able to be there for Crystal and help her navigate exactly the things AP just talked about. How to get through a screen more effectively, we need more from Crystal defensively.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

Versatility could be part of the order of the day in Minnesota. Reeve sees a possibility for Powers to initiate offense and Collier being able to continue her work as a forward.

Reeve also believes that it was more important to be smarter in free agency than it was to make moves in response to those of other teams. Obviously, the Lynx went into this free agency period with a plan and have appeared to have executed that plan with the utmost success in getting three veteran players in Achonwa, McBride and now Powers. Minnesota is a team whose dynasty was built around veterans and in the WNBA, teams with veterans have historically experienced the most success.

We valued this free agency class. And, you know, you don’t know how it’s going to work out. You only know the free agents that are going to be available. You think that you have some things to offer. We have a lot to offer. But you don’t know how it’s going to work out, but we definitely had more of a focus on this class and we knew we had cap space. Thanks to team-friendly deals, Sylvia Fowles is still playing under the old CBA. So, she’s one of the lowest-paid players on the team despite being one of the best players in the league.

–Cheryl Reeve, Lynx coach/general manager

Change is never easy. And that is the other side of free agency that we do not always get to see. In many ways, as Powers talked about during the presser, DC is where she grew as a player and as a person after a rough start to a career in Dallas. And while it may have been tough for her to depart from the Mystics – where she won a championship in 2019 – she reiterated that free agency was simply about making the best decision for herself.

It’s a lot of love there from the fans to my teammates to even Coach T … Coach T really helped me when it came to … transitioning from Dallas and seeing the floor better … I feel bad because free agency is open to everyone … and it’s a situation where you try to make the best out of your situation.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

For me, I went into thinking I’m not sure where I really want to go, but I know that whatever I make, the decision I make, I want it to be the best for me. And I’m sorry if it was some hurt feelings there. I still have a lot of love for the organization from Ted to Zach Leonsis and to Coach T. I mean, for me, it wasn’t really, I would say, a breakup. I still have love for them, they still have love for me. But, I just had to make the best decision for myself.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Powers’ respect for Reeve, she says, came through in that “top dog” compliment because she says she has been on teams where players got out of line before and someone had to reel them back in. She mentioned that the talent the team has provided another reason that enticed her to join Minnesota, drawing from the trust factor that was fostered in Washington.

When I won the championship, we all were so locked in. We all trusted each other so well and it wasn’t one girl. It was not ever one girl.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

We can get these players because, for me, it’s not about those five players that’s playing or starting. It’s also about the next two or three coming off the bench that now, you’re looking at the opponents and you’re bringing in some other players while they’re still having, maybe, their same five – they’re tired. These girls are coming off the bench well rested, ready to go, locked in and you’re just running teams down. That’s how I feel like our championship run ended up with the Mystics. I came off the bench and I’m like, yo, I’m on the bench but I’m feeling like a starter and that’s how I’m about to play. So, when Cheryl told me about all these pieces, it’s just like, how can we not win a championship.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

Powers described the strategy that Reeve approached the last two free agency periods as her playing chess as opposed to checkers.

When it comes to this team, the longevity of our team – we can win championships on championships.

–Aerial Powers, Minnesota Lynx

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