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The New York Liberty had a busy offseason, building one of the WNBA’s next super teams. Although conversation regarding super teams in the WNBA has picked up this year, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. Two decades ago, the Houston Comets gave the newly unveiled league an immediate dynasty, dominating the opposition en route to winning the WNBA’s first four titles behind their big three of Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson. The Minnesota Lynx followed in their footsteps, winning 4 titles between 2011 and 2017 with a team that featured Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and then integrated Sylvia Fowles. This new Liberty team, however, is introducing a new era of player movement and empowerment. Jonquel Jones specifically demanded a trade to New York to put all of this in motion.
Super teams and rivalries are incredibly important to the WNBA’s growth and media exposure. The Liberty understood that and seized the moment, rocking the basketball world with their offseason moves. Aware of the Liberty’s and the league’s potential this season, ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 will put 25 regular season games on national television; the Liberty will appear in nine of them.
New York is now considered to b the prohibitive favorite to win the championship for the coming season. Alongside the newly added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, they now feature their former number one pick Sabrina Ionescu , 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart, and WNBA assist leader Courtney Vandersloot. Stewart, who won two titles and two Finals MVPs with the Seattle Storm, came to the Liberty as the best available free agent in the league. This signing alone crowned the Liberty the winners of free agency, but the signing of Vandersloot cannot be overlooked. With plenty of talented scorers coming together in New York, they needed a true pass-first point guard to run the show, and Vandersloot was by far the best on the market.
Jones, who is one of the best two-way players in the league, came to New York as a part of a three-team deal after asking the Connecticut Sun to arrange her move to the Liberty. The same trade also sent Kayla Thornton over from the Dallas Wings, another valuable addition which is being overlooked amidst all of the other moves. Thornton initially went undrafted in 2014, but has since made herself into a reliable role player and perimeter defender. Her defensive acumen will be particularly vital because one of the Liberty’s biggest weaknesses last season was its consistent struggle to contain dynamic wing scorers last season.
Besides Ionescu the Liberty are also returning Betnijah Laney, a key contributor during the Liberty’s recent postseason appearances. Furthermore, they re-signed some valuable pieces to maintain depth and also managed to add some young talent. Guard Marine Johannes will be returning to the Liberty after finishing her season in France as a phenomenal facilitator and sharpshooter off the bench. Joining her is Han Xu, who emerged as an interesting center prospect last season and re-signed with the Liberty as well.
Bolstering their depth, the Liberty also signed two 2022 draft picks, Nyara Sabally and Sika Koné, to rookie scale contracts. Sabally was picked fifth overall after an intriguing career at the University of Oregon but missed whaat would have been her rookie year due to a knee injury. Koné came off a great FIBA World Cup performance where she led all players in rebounds. They are certainly interesting prospects, but both will have to work incredibly hard to earn a defined role on this stacked Liberty roster with championship aspirations. The same goes for Didi Richards and Jocelyn Willoughby, who will most probably find themselves fighting for minutes.
The sheer star power on this team is fascinating, but it also means that the Liberty have a lot of mouths to feed. Their stars are not completely unfamiliar with each other thanks to stints with Team USA, but they still have a lot to figure out in terms of hierarchy and fit. With a projected started five of Ionescu, Vandersloot, Laney, Stewart, and Jones and key rotational players in Johannes, Thornton, and Stefanie Dolson, they basically have completely overhauled their roster. Players will have to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses quickly and make certain sacrifices to accommodate everyone. The focus here is on the word quickly because there is a lot of pressure on the team to win now after assembling such a star-studded squad.
They will certainly win a lot of regular season games and go deep into the playoffs, but there will still be obstacles to their title pursuit. The Las Vegas Aces, for example, kept most of their championship roster around, which gives them the advantage of familiarity, and added Candace Parker. They will not just sit around and watch while the Liberty marches unimpeded to a championship.