Natalie Achonwa (Minnesota Lynx backup forward) announced Tuesday on Instagram that she was pregnant.
“On behalf of Lynx players, coaches and staff, I want to share a heartfelt congratulations to Natalie and her family,” Lynx president of basketball operations and head coach Cheryl Reeve said in a statement provided by the team. “Being a parent is an exceptional joy and we wish Natalie a healthy pregnancy.”
This is the second consecutive season where a Lynx team member is likely to be out of action due to pregnancy. Forward Napheesa Kollier missed all but the last four games of the 2022 Season after she gave birth to her first child.
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As was the case with Collier, Achonwa’s pregnancy and subsequent recovery mean that the Lynx will effectively be down one roster spot until they qualify for a hardship exemption. Reeve started many seasons with only 11 players. However, hardship exemptions are possible for teams that have less than 10 active players.
Additionally, the contracts of players who miss time due to pregnancy still count against teams’ salary caps. Therefore, the Lynx have about $540,000 in cap space next season.
Since signing a six-figure, three-year deal with the Lynx prior to 2021, Achonwa’s experience has been very disappointing. She’s appeared in only 43 games due to various injuries and averaged a mere 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game.
Achonwa’s contract expiring after the 2023 season, it’s possible that she will be playing her last game in a Lynx jersey. The eight year veteran of the WNBA is well-respected in the locker room. Achonwa is a vocal leader who is engaged on the sidelines even when injured. The Lynx is disappointed with her performance on court so far.
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Achonwa’s absence will also put more pressure on the Lynx to bring in frontcourt help this offseason. After Sylvia Fowles’ retirement, the team was already searching for a replacement and now they need to find someone to fill her shoes.
One direction the Lynx will undoubtedly look is toward 6’3 forward Nikolina Milic. Milic — who often goes by Nina — was a somewhat surprising signing last season following Minnesota’s slow start. However, the 28-year-old rookie played 31 games and received praise from her teammates as well. Milic averaged 6.0 points and 3.0 boards in 11.7 minutes each game. Most of her playing time came while Fowles was recovering after a knee injury.
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