The New York Liberty’s return to Brooklyn didn’t go as planned, as they ended up on the wrong end of a blowout against the Chicago Sky.
Candace Parker fell just short of Barclays Center’s second WNBA triple-double, putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds to go with six assists. She was one of four Chicago Sky representatives who reached double-figures as they rolled to an 92-72 victory over the New York Liberty. The game was the first of a two-game set between New York (7-7) and Chicago, with the latter scheduled for Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, YES/Twitter). With the win, the Sky (8-7) have now won six in a row.
ESM has game balls for the New York silver linings…
3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu
6 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds
Ionescu slowly started to resemble her dominant self on Tuesday night, looking as fast and athletic as she has been since missing two games with an “overuse” injury. Though New York was drastically outplayed by the resurgent Sky, they were undoubtedly a better team with her on the court. Time will tell if she’s able to resume her starting lineup duties, though Bec Allen has filled in quite efficiently in her place, so there’s no need to rush.
2nd Star: Jazmine Jones
11 points (5-8 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks
Jones did what she did best in an effort to stem the bleeding: providing energy, even if it came in the form of expressing PG-13-displeasure at the officials (who awarded the Liberty only 11 free throws on Tuesday night). The All-Rookie nominee has reached double-figures in three of her last five games after doing so only once in the first nine contests. She also did a solid job of crashing the boards, hauling in five on the defensive end.
1st Star: Betnijah Laney
18 points (7-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Laney fell short of her traditional 20 but rediscovered her shooting touch after the recent four-game road trip brought her back down to earth a little bit. With the WNBA having announced a unique All-Star Game format in Las Vegas (pitting the United States’ womens’ Olympic basketball against a dozen WNBA All-Stars), Laney continues to make her case for a nomination, having missed on last year’s edition with the season confined to the Bradenton bubble.
The Brooklyn Nets have been smoking hot this year. Roaring to life this season and setting the league on fire with their explosive superstars, the Nets have flat-out dominated teams with their offensive fortitude and have not slowed down. Despite having one of the most inconsistent starting lineups throughout the season due to injuries, mid-season trades, and personal, off-court circumstances, the Nets still managed to somehow muster a stellar 48-24 record on the season, clinching second overall in the East to secure a big playoff berth.
But what remains to be so impressive about the success of this team is how it has been executed through not only their core big three but also from their various different role-players as well. To see returning superstar Kevin Durant average a deadly stat line of 26.9 ppg, with 6.7 rpg and 5.6 apg in 35 games played, from Kyrie Irving becoming only the 9th player in NBA history to achieve a ‘50/40/90’ shooting performance on the season, to Joe Harris who shot 50.5% from the field and 47.5% from 3-PT range in 69 games, to Jeff Green’s, Bruce Brown’s and Landry Shamet’s ability to do all the little things this team needs on the floor, the Nets found various ways to win throughout the entire season, using just about everyone on their roster to achieve that goal.
However, despite all the success this team has accomplished under first-year head coach Steve Nash, the biggest, lingering obstacle left for the Nets to hurdle, comes down to how they are able to translate their seasonal success into the playoffs. Playoff basketball is gritty and intense, where not only do you face some of the best teams and players in the NBA, but you face them 4-7 games straight per round, home and away. And that level of flawless basketball that teams need to produce in order to win becomes that much harder to execute on a daily basis, especially when up against strong defensive teams who know what to watch for and adjust to after playing their opponent a couple of times in a row.
Although the Nets have great experience and talent all over their team, there are three major factors they will need to surmount if they want a chance to make their first Finals appearance in 18 years. And considering the severity and magnitude of these hurdles, it seems unlikely that the Nets will be able to get past the Eastern Conference Finals and could potentially come up short in the Semifinals. Though the Nets have proven that nothing is impossible, overcoming all of these challenges in the playoffs is simply far too grand and difficult of a feat, even for a team that’s as strong as the Nets. Without further ado, here are the three major concerns the Nets face in the playoffs:
3. Lack Of Chemistry Between Big Three: Though injuries are hard to avoid, lack of chemistry is a presiding reality with the Nets big three that could prove to be very costly during the playoffs. Playing a total of eight games together during the regular season along with two playoff games under their belts so far, Durant, Irving, and James Harden have not played a whole lot together, which has hindered their ability to garner a resilient chemistry level between the three of them. This might not be so problematic for a big three-unit that has a greater role-playing presence than the Nets do. But because the Nets have three mega scorers and ball-possession-oriented superstars, the balance between the need to score and unselfish play amongst each other is vital for them to strengthen and maintain, which doesn’t seem realistic to achieve during such a small window of time. Naturally, this concern will only get better with more playing time together, particularly since starters tend to play significantly bigger minutes during the postseason as well. However, great chemistry is developed with time, and this big three has not gotten much of that. Just take a look at the Miami Heat when they assembled their big three; they played a lot more games together and still came up short in the Finals back in 2011. Same thing with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ big three prior to winning their first championship in 2016; they didn’t win their first title with their big three until a year after they all joined the same team. If none of these epic franchises could muster a title in their first seasons with their respective big threes, it’s hard to envision that being any different with the Nets this season.
2. Poor Defense: Quite frankly, this is debatably the biggest issue for the Nets. Outside of Durant, Harris, Green, Brown, and Nicholas Claxton, the Nets don’t have anyone else who really plays good perimeter or interior defense, and it showed all season. Finishing the year in 21st overall in points allowed with a hefty total of 114.1 per game, the Nets also allowed their opponents to shoot just about 46% from the field and over 35% from the 3-PT line (ESPN). Though DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin do provide decent support inside, playing behind guards like Irving and Harden is a very difficult task, considering how often both guards struggle with keeping their opponents in front of them. Achieving regular-season success with a defense as poor as this is one thing. But when it comes to the playoffs, more or less the Finals, defense is what wins games, and the Nets don’t have much to show for on that front. If they come across teams like the 76ers, the Bucks, and even the Hawks or Knicks, the Nets are going to have to figure out how they not only can outscore their opponents every night but, in the process, will have to do so against some of the best defenses and defensive players in the league. And even for a big three as good as this one, that’s a huge challenge and a lot of pressure to take on every time they step on the court.
1. Tough Eastern Conference Opponents: You would think this wouldn’t be a major concern for the Nets, considering they are the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. But, believe it or not, the Nets have a handful of opponents that could thwart their run to the Finals. If all goes well against the Celtics, the Nets would be in line to face the winner of the Miami Heat/Milwaukee Bucks series. With Miami down 3-0, it appears that the Nets will be in line to face the Bucks, which is a very concerning matchup. Losing back-to-back games against Milwaukee towards the end of the season, the Bucks have an offense that is debatably just as good as the Nets and was number one in points per game this season (ESPN). In addition, they also have much better defensive players in guys like Giannis Antetokoumpo, Jrue Holiday, P.J. Tucker, Brook Lopez, and Khris Middleton. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If the Nets manage to get past the Bucks, there’s a very good chance they’ll be in line to face the 76ers, a nightmare matchup for any team. Possessing the deepest, most complete and well-rounded lineup in the NBA, the 76ers simply have it all. From an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid, to a defensive player of the year candidate in Ben Simmons, to then an outstanding two-way threat in Tobias Harris, along with 3-PT snipers in Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Furkan Korkmaz, the Nets really don’t have an answer against this team. If the Knicks or the Hawks perchance make it past the 76ers, the Nets will certainly have better odds to make their first Finals appearance. But even then, both the Hawks and Knicks bring the offensive skill and defensive fortitude to overthrow the Nets, presenting Brooklyn with a difficult finish either way.
In short, there’s a lot that has to go right for the Nets to make it to the Finals this year, more or less win their first title. With a chemistry level that lacks the essence of time and a defensive scheme that desperately needs toughness and better skill both inside and out, the Nets will have a hard time surpassing deeper and stouter teams within their own conference and certainly want to avoid a long series with both the Bucks and the 76ers. If they somehow survive against the Bucks and avoid the 76ers, the Nets potentially have a shot at making a Finals appearance. However, despite all their success this season, the magnitude of these core concerns are far too large and imposing for the Nets to fix during the stretch of the postseason. And an early exit in the playoffs seems inevitable.
As the New York Liberty prepare to make their Brooklyn debut, ESM has everything you need to know about their opening day lineup.
New York City-branded basketball being played in New York City…groundbreaking concept, isn’t it?
Following two years of Westchester County exile and a pandemic-induced trip to Florida to compete in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble, the New York Liberty return to action within city limits on Friday night against the Indiana Fever (7 p.m. ET, YES/NBA TV). With the WNBA celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Liberty likewise celebrate theirs as one of three original franchises that remain in the markets in which they began. Aligned with the Brooklyn Nets ownership group, the Liberty will now call Barclays Center their full-home after two previous decades at Madison Square Garden.
Though the Liberty have yet to capture an elusive WNBA title, they remain one of the league’s most storied franchises, with Tina Charles, Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, and Rebecca Lobo being among the legendary faces of basketball to traverse the New York hardwood. The team entered a period of rebuilding, its most recent edition in Florida coming under first-year head coach Walt Hopkins Jr.
The rebuild cratered last season to the tune of a Floridian ledger of 2-20, but New York management was enthused by the moral victories they took with them. Hopkins has established a new order focused on defense and fearless shooting, with the proceedings set to center around 2020’s top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. The touted Oregon Duck was limited to only three games due to an ankle injury, but positives emerged through other rookies like Jazmine Jones and Leanna Odom.
This offseason, the Liberty made several moves that are set to add to the team’s win total. They signed 2020’s Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney from Atlanta and acquired Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb, and their five championship rings among them from Seattle. Such moves caused nearly half of the WNBA’s dozen general manager to label the Liberty as the most improved team heading into Friday’s tip-off events.
The preseason accolades, however, mean little, if anything, to Hopkins:
“How can we be the most improved team when we haven’t played a game?” Hopkins rhetorically asked on Thursday. “We still have a lot to prove to ourselves in terms of our capacity now to apply what we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks…“You’re going to hear me as a broken record all year talk about focusing on our day to day and our controllable. You won’t hear me too often acknowledge expectations as being something that we’re focused on here.”
Meet the 2021 New York Liberty below…
(*-Unavailable until further notice)
F Rebecca Allen*
College: Australia Experience: 6th season 2019 Stats: 7.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG
Allen seems tailor-made to play in Walt Hopkins’ system: she’s a tenacious defender with a sense of fearless shooting, a trait well on display in her most recent campaign in New York. Prior to opting out of the 2020 season, Allen set a record by putting up 20 points in a single quarter en route to a career-best in scoring. She kept up the good work through overseas action in Spain, where she averaged a team-best 11.5 points for Valencia BC.
Hopkins will have to be a little patient for Allen to make her debut, as her extended international endeavors made her a late arrival to the prep for an American title. With the departure of close friend Amanda Zahui B, Allen is now the longest-tenured member of the Liberty, having arrived as a free agent in 2015.
G Layshia Clarendon
College: Cal-Berkeley Experience: 9th season (2nd in New York) 2020 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 3.9 APG
One of the WNBA’s most outspoken players in off-court issues (sitting on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council), Clarendon was a rarity on last year’s Liberty roster as a player with at least a half-decade of professional experience. Their services in the Bradenton bubble went far beyond simple veteran mentorship, as they put up a career-best in scoring and played a major role in the New York offense when Sabrina Ionescu went down with an injury. It marked a strong return to the court for Clarendon, who was limited to nine games in 2019 due to an ankle injury of their own.
With several new veterans in two, Clarendon will likely serve as a spark and de facto fifth coach off the bench.
F Natasha Howard*
College: Florida State Experience: 8th season (1st in New York) 2020 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG
With the Liberty eager to clog up their porous defense (allowing over 85 points per game over the last two seasons), there was perhaps no one better to call than Howard, one of the most fearsome defenders in the Association since her 2014 entry. It cost a hefty price…the Liberty shipped off the top overall pick of April’s WNBA Draft and All-Star Kia Nurse in the three-team deal to obtain her…but Howard, a Hopkins protege during a championship trek in 2017 with the Minnesota Lynx, promises to be well worth it.
Among the accolades in Howard’s packed trophy closet are three championship rings (including one from the bubble as a member of the Seattle Storm), the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year title, and a pair of All-Defensive First Team nods. She’s been a part of three of the last four WNBA championship efforts. It might take a little longer to get back to those levels in New York, but the Liberty’s investments make it clear they want her to play a huge part in that.
It’s a little early to crown Ionescu the face of the WNBA…after all, she only has three games under her belt, having suffered an ankle injury in only her third professional excursion. But the walking college basketball record book is back for what basically amounts to a second rookie season and is dangerously motivated.
While Ionescu’s impact on a national level can’t be fully assessed just yet, there were plenty of tantalizing glimpses of her hardwood heroics on display in her brevity. Notably, she put 33 points in just her second career contest against Dallas (squaring up against fellow Eugene standout Satou Sabally). Time will tell how long it takes for her to regain her elite form, but there’s no doubt that the journey will be watched by anyone with a passing interest in what lies ahead for a league celebrating its silver anniversary.
Last season, a New York Liberty rookie, chosen at one of the bookends of the all-virtual draft made a major difference in one of the guard roles. She saw her efforts rewarded with a spot on the league’s official All-Rookie team. Unpredictably, however, the player in question was not Ionescu but Jones, the 12th and final pick of 2020’s opening round.
Jones was another player who filled Ionescu’s sneakers, taking over a point guard role she hadn’t played since her high school days at Florida A&M Developmental. She wound up leading all rookies in steals (1.4 a game) and was one of six to earn double figures in scoring. Her energy, constantly captured through the team’s social media accounts, would likely top charts if there was a number able to be attached to it.
F Betnijah Laney
College: Rutgers Experience: 6th season (1st with New York) 2020 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG
Laney knows a thing or two about making an impact through basketball in the tri-state area. She previously a hoops heroine in Piscataway, where she played under the legendary C. Vivian Stringer, setting Scarlet Knight records in the process.
“Character” has been one of the most prominent buzzwords during the training camp process. Laney more than fulfills that trait through her work in the bubble. Having survived transfers to three different WNBA squads over her first four seasons, Laney broke out as a member of the Atlanta Dream in Bradenton, more than tripling her previous career-best output in scoring. The Liberty would certainly know about her breakout: Laney’s trek toward Most Improved Player honors began when she earned her first career 30-point game in a July win against New York.
F Leaonna Odom
College: Duke Experience: 2nd season 2020 Stats: 5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG
Time will tell, but Odom could wind up becoming one of the most valuable diamonds in the rough to emerge from the bubble. The Liberty’s latest draft pick from last year’s sizable haul (15th overall) developed a notorious reputation as a strong defender, frustrating some of the league’s most notable names, including Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner.
Alas for the Liberty, they’ll have to wait a little bit to see Odom resume her defensive prowess. The team announced on Thursday that she’ll miss tonight’s opener with an Achilles injury.
The Liberty’s 2021 draft class isn’t as plentiful as last year’s group, but talent was certainly not sacrificed in the smaller settings. Their first pick was the former Bruin Onyenwere (pronounced On-yen-way-day) with the sixth overall choice.
Onyenwere has a prime opportunity to contribute immediately to Liberty’s hopeful surge. She fulfills the team’s requirement for fearless shooting, as she departed UCLA as the fourth-leading scorer in program history and tried nearly 200 three-pointers over her final three seasons. But with Howard and Stokes’ debuts unscheduled, Onyenwere could be called upon to make a difference in the interior, as she put up over eight rebounds a game during her sophomore and junior seasons.
By every stretch of the basketball imagination, Richards shouldn’t be suiting up for her WNBA debut in Brooklyn. A freak accident in an early practice at Baylor nearly left her paralyzed and she was medically advised to realistically start thinking of career options beyond the hardwood.
However, Richards went to check off another box on the Liberty’s shopping list for character, working her way back and resuming her role as a strong defender. She brings a national championship ring from her sophomore season and three Defensive Player of the Year titles from 2020. Richards more than made up for lost time once the season began, finishing second in the nation with 189 total assists.
Immediately after picking Jones (as well as COVID-sidelined second overall choice Asia Durr in 2019), the Liberty continued to treat UL as a de facto farm team by taking Shook with the first pick of the second round.
Shook deal with a late injury, but has taken on a larger role in her second season. Several of the younger players, and even some veteran newcomers, have praised Shook for helping them get used to the system. With Stokes and Howard’s debut in question and Amanda Zahui B off to Los Angeles, Shook is expected to take on a major role in the interior.
The only leftover from the Liberty’s “baby vet” dwelling in Bradenton (Zahui and Kia Nurse being the others), Stokes’ status will fluctuate throughout the season, as she’s finishing her international duties while also preparing to partake in Turkey’s EuroBasket plans. However, it’s clear that the Liberty have high hopes for her, signing the long-tenured interior prescience to a new contract before last season ended.
Though Stokes’ should return to being a strong paint presicence with Zahui B now out west, the New York coaching staff was very enthused by her newfound liking for outside shooting. No one embraced the Liberty’s new tenet of fearless shooting like Stokes, who did not partake in any 2019 action for personal reasons. She put up 85 attempts from deep last year after trying only three in the four years prior.
G Sami Whitcomb
College: Washington Experience: 5th season (1st in New York) 2020 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG
It’s almost somewhat easy for Whitcomb to get lost in the Liberty’s stellar transaction log, but she provides accomplished veteran intangibles through both American and Australian endeavors. Whitcomb was another member of the defending champion Storm (though she did not partake in the championship round due to the birth of her first child) and came over with Howard, with whom she likewise collaborated on a 2018 triumph in the Finals.
Whitcomb is on the shortlist of WNBA stars that already know how to make a difference at Barclays Center: she sank a career-best seven field when Seattle came to visit in the building lone regular season game in 2019.
The New York Liberty may be leaving White Plains behind, but a piece of their possible future was apparently found in Westchester County.
A White Plains-based Twitter user identified as “S. Janelle” took to the platform to share what appears to be new uniforms for the Liberty, who are set to celebrate their 25th anniversary season, along with the WNBA as a whole, this summer. S. Janelle, a junior varsity high school basketball coach for the Byram Hills High School Bobcats in Armonk, shared photos of the new look on Twitter, which plays on both the teal and copper perceptions of the Statue of Liberty that bears the team’s name. Of note, the jersey bears numerals on the front of the uniform, namely the No. 20 of Sabrina Ionescu.
Upon zooming in on the photos, the jersey’s teal variant (adorned with the label “Equality”, the i replaced by a Liberty torch) is labeled the “Rebel” edition, while the black edition bears the “Explorer” moniker.
S. Janelle told ESM that she was previously a season-ticket holder during the Liberty’s days at Madison Square Garden and continued to support the team during their two seasons in White Plains’ Westchester County Center. Much like the Liberty using seven rookies last season, S. Janelle learned how to play with freshmen. In a shortened season, the Bobcats went 6-3 on a team with six first-years and four upperclassmen.
As the Liberty prepare to embark on their landmark 25th anniversary season, the team also unveiled a new marketing campaign encouraging fans to use the tag “#OwnTheCrown” on their social media platforms. The Liberty also unveiled a video to commemorate their new campaign, with team legend and current New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon providing narration. WNBA All-Rookie team nominee Jazmine Jones makes an appearance along with numerous Brooklyn residents, starring alongside highlights from the Liberty’s most recent season in the Bradenton bubble.
“The #OwnTheCrown campaign pays homage to women who continue to break barriers like the women of the Liberty have done for the last 25 years,” Shana Stephenson, the Liberty’s Vice President of Marketing, said “From on-and off-court legends of the franchise like T-Spoon, to local business owners, youth athletes, activists and artists, the team will celebrate the journey of women who are vital to not only the history of the organization, but the overall empowerment of women, and the diverse culture of New York City.”
The New York Liberty have released a new video in celebration of their new campaign for their 25th anniversary season. The video is narrated by Teresa Weatherspoon and includes the apparent new hashtag: #OwnTheCrown#WNBApic.twitter.com/ni5NPH5IR0
New York Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon announced on Friday that they underwent top surgery to remove breast tissue earlier this month. Clarendon made their announcement on social media. The Cal-Berkeley graduate wrapped their first season with the Liberty after signing with the team last offseason.
“It’s hard to put into words the feeling of seeing my chest for the first time free of breasts, seeing my chest the way I’ve always seen it, and feeling a sense of gender euphoria as opposed to gender dysphoria,” Clarendon said in their Instagram post. I’m usually not scared to share news publicly but the amount of hate, myths & ignorance surrounding Trans and Non-Binary people’s existence actually had me debating sharing this joy. I want Trans people to know and see that we’ve always existed & no one can erase us!”
Clarendon’s announcement has received droves of support in the wake of their announcement, including statements from both the Liberty and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, as well as from teammates like Amanda Zahui B.
“Layshia’s story is one of inspiration and courage, and as a takeaway from the emotional conversation we shared recently, my hope is that the WNBA’s full support will extend far beyond this league,” Engelbert said on her Instagram story. “We are so proud that Layshia is part of the WNBA and we know that their voice and continued advocacy will not only support and help honor and uplift many other nonbinary and trans people, but also encourage empathy and understanding for the community across all levels of sport.”
“The New York Liberty family is in full support of Layshia Clarendon and their choice to live authentically. The Liberty has been and will continue to be an organization that celebrates the individuality of all people. Layshia is a proud embodiment of our belief that our strength lies in our truth and no one should live constrained by societal boundaries. Layshia’s journey as a pioneering athlete, along with their activism and advocacy work, is an inspiring call for each of us to honor our humanity above all else.”
Clarendon entered the league as a first-round pick of the Indiana Fever has been at the forefront of the WNBA’s off-the-court endeavors, serving on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council and the vice president of the league’s players association. They earned a career-best 11.5 points per game in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble last season.
The Liberty, along with the rest of the WNBA, will be permitted to formally sign free agents on February 1.
The New York Liberty’s first-round choice from the 2019 draft spoke about her bout with COVID-19 and her experience as a “long hauler”.
New York Liberty guard Asia Durr appeared on Tuesday night’s season premiere of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel to discuss her bout with the novel coronavirus, one that has carried on far beyond her recovery. Durr, the second overall pick of the 2019 WNBA Draft, opted out of the Liberty’s 2020 efforts in the Bradenton bubble due to her diagnosis.
Speaking with Real Sports correspondent Mary Carillo, Durr was showcased as one of several athletes who are still feeling the aftershocks of their battle with COVID-19. Such patients experience damage caused by the disease for months after their diagnosis. Symptoms of long-haulers include fatigue and shortness of breath, and spiked heart rate. According to Baltimore-based pulmonologist Dr. Emily P. Brigham, MD, who is also interviewed in Carillo’s piece, the condition is more present in women, including athletes.
Carillo presents Durr’s story as a “cautionary tale” in the story of long-haulers. Speaking through a video conference, Durr admits that a good day consists of going to the store or cleaning her home, a stark contrast to the heavy workload demanded from a professional athlete. Other days, she can’t get out of bed, an experience she compares to “get(ting) hit by a bus”.
“My life has completely changed since June 8,” Durr told Carillo, referring to the date of her initial diagnosis. “I was back-and-forth, seeing doctors, hospitals…I couldn’t breathe, I was spitting up blood…lung pain that was so severe, it felt like somebody took a long knife and was just stabbing you in your lungs each second. I woke up, 2:00 in the morning, vomiting, going back-and-forth to the bathroom. I couldn’t keep anything down.”
Durr confirmed to Carillo that she had lost 32 pounds as a result of her ordeal. The question of if she’ll ever play basketball again “has definitely crossed (her) mind plenty of times”.
Other affected athletes interviewed came from the collegiate level, including Concordia University runner Natalie Hakala and University of St. Thomas (MN) hockey player Nicole Knudson.
Following her appearance, Durr took to Twitter to thank well-wishers for their support and to encourage them to take the ongoing health crisis seriously.
“My hope is that in sharing my struggle, it will help others,” Durr said on her account, @A_Hooper25. “PLEASE take COVID seriously folks. It’s very real. Wear a mask! Protect each other. Young people, athletes, you too. We are not invincible.
She also assured Liberty fans that she was doing everything in her power to be ready for the 2021 season.
“I am working every day to be back for this WNBA season!” Durr wrote. “My progress is slow and incremental, but I’m striving to gain momentum. Thankful for (the Liberty) for their patience & resources. This entire struggle has been a powerful reminder of all my blessings too.”
Determined to finally rise from the ashes of the WNBA cellar, the New York Liberty now face a most interesting free agency period.
The New York Liberty have sowed their post-Madison Square Garden rebuild for three years now. But after three years at or near the bottom of the WNBA standings, they’re really to start reaping.
Three months after the Bradenton bubble was deflated for the last time, the Association’s free agency period unofficially opened on Friday, with its twelve teams now permitted to negotiate with their own free agents, as well as Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents. Deals and offer sheets can officially be signed on February 1.
Trapped in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history, the Liberty have picked some strong-long term contributors during their stay in hardwood purgatory. These additions go far beyond the high-profile arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, as the team has also welcomed in All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 All-Rookie team representative Jazmine Jones through the draft, while veteran leader Layshia Clarendon arrived through free agency last season. More recently, the Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second straight season, as they earned an early Christmas gift in the form of the top overall pick at this spring’s upcoming draft. Additionally, the Liberty gained franchise stability through new management. Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in 2019 and was ready to move the team into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before current events enforced a delay.
These decisions and steps forward have done little to atone for the fact that the Liberty have endured some brutal seasons in recent years, with things more or less plummeting in a 2-20 record inside the bubble. The Liberty went through most of last season without Ionescu and veteran contributors like Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr, and Marine Johannes, using seven rookies over the course of the enclosed season. With the veterans set to return, the Liberty will have some major decisions to make when it comes to these young players.
In the lottery aftermath, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it clear that the 2021 season would be one that could at least begin to right the ship while developing some of their younger talents. Kolb labeled this modern endeavor a “hybrid rebuild”.
“We have a really exciting opportunity to kind of have a hybrid rebuild if you will,” Kolb said. “We can be super competitive right now while bringing along the future of the Liberty down the road. So that’s what we’re going to try to do. We have a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.”
“I think the most exciting thing is, we’re in position to do something. We’re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if they’re interested in coming to New York, we’re in a position to capitalize on it.”
Based on numbers from Spotrac, the Liberty have just over $467,000 to spend through free agency.
ESM has you covered with what you need to know about the Liberty’s transactional future as the process gets underway…
The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.
C/F Kiah Stokes
Stokes was set to become a free agent but inked a one-year contract extension just before the Liberty’s season finale in September. After sitting out the entire 2019 WNBA season due to personal issues, Stokes returned to America with a newfound propensity for shooting the three, putting up 85 attempts after only three in her first four seasons. She sank only 20, but her newfound confidence from beyond the arc was inspiring to head coach Walt Hopkins.
“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said in September. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re able to grow.”
“As this season went on, it was quite clear Kiah Stokes needed to be a part of what we’re doing,” Kolb said after her re-upping. “She enables us what we want to be and helps us be what we want to be.”
As a first-round pick from 2015, Stokes also presents a rare form of experience on the current New York roster.
The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.
Reserved players are those that have three years or less of WNBA service. Their current teams have exclusive negotiation rights.
F Joyner Holmes
After the Liberty endured their veteran opt-outs, they brought in Holmes, a 2020 second-round pick from Seattle. Holmes averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games off the bench but left her mark on New York history by tying a Liberty rookie record with 13 rebounds in a September tilt against Phoenix.
G Paris Kea
A former draft pick in Indiana, Kea was signed midseason once it became clear that Ionescu was out with a long-term issue. She made the most of her opportunity, averaging 6.9 points over 11 contests (five of which she started). The Liberty recently announced that Kea underwent knee surgery for an injury she sustained while playing overseas in Israel. Her 2021 status is uncertain, but she is expected to make a full recovery.
Unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign with any team, except if they been bestowed core status
C Amanda Zahui B
Another New York veteran, coming over in a 2016 trade with the defunct Tulsa Shock, Zahui B emerged as a leader on and off the court last season. The rookie surplus looked up to her as an inspiration, while she used her platform to bring attention to social causes away from the hardwood.
Zahui B set career highs in nearly every major category this season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but with Stokes’ return confirmed and collegiate interior threat Charli Collier potentially up for the top pick, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Stockholm native’s future.
Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current team
F/G Rebecca Allen
Allen opted out of the 2020 season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, but was routinely mentioned by Liberty representatives over the season. Hopkins, for example, never hesitated to mention just how much he missed having Allen in his debut lineup.
“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,” Hopkins said earlier last spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”
F Stephanie Talbot
Talbot has yet to make her New York debut, having arrived through a draft night trade with Minnesota. Allen’s fellow Opal (a member of Australia’s national squad) likewise opted out but kept busy in her homeland’s top women’s league, earning first-team all-WNBL honors alongside WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage. Talbot previously worked with Hopkins when the latter was an assistant with the Lynx in 2019.
Outside Names to Watch
F Natasha Howard, Seattle
In her brief WNBA time, Ionescu found her shooting prowess rather quickly, scoring 33 points in only her second contest. If the Liberty were able to get another experienced interior threat, similar to what Ionescu had at Oregon with fellow 2020 draftees Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, it could help her get even more comfortable with the WNBA game.
Howard has had her experience working with game-changing point guards in Seattle, namely Sue Bird. With a pair of All-Defensive First Team nominations, she would also give the Liberty some much needed defensive pointers, as New York has finished no better than ninth in points allowed in each of the past three seasons (including a league-worst 84.3 per game in 2019). Hopkins (as well as assistant Shelley Patterson) has also worked with Howard in the past, as the two previously collaborated on the Lynx’s 2017 run to the WNBA Finals.
F Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles
Both Kolb and Hopkins have preached about the value of high-character players representing New York, and it’s hard to find anyone more accomplished on and off the court than Ogwumike. The current Spark and future Space Jam: A New Legacy star is current in the midst of her second term as the WNBA Players Association president, with Clarendon serving as the second-in-command. WIth WNBPA headquarters situated on Sixth Ave., New York could be an attractive option to Ogwumike from both a basketball and business standpoint.
Both Howard and Ogwumike have core designations, but something can still be accomplished through a sign-and-trade deal.
F Emma Meeseman, Washington
Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep perhaps best personified Hopkins’ vision of playing positionless basketball where participants are confident from any area of the floor.
That more or less has been the story of Meeseman over the past few seasons, as she has fulfilled a variety of roles under Mike Thibault. She played it to her advantage during the 2019 WNBA Finals, coming off the bench to swipe series MVP honors after skipping the previous 2018 season to represent her native Belgium in the FIBA World Cup. Though Washington struggled without Elena Delle Donne last season, Meeseman set a new career-best with 4.5 assists per game.
The New York Liberty’s in-season addition was injured while playing overseas in Israel, but she is expected to make a full recovery.
The New York Liberty announced on Thursday that guard Paris Kea has undergone successful anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery on her left knee earlier this week.
Kea sustained the injury during her overseas endeavors with Maccabi Haifa, an Israeli club. At the time of her injury, she ranked second on the squad with 19.0 points and 2.5 steals per game. Her procedure was performed at the Hospital for Special Surgery under the watch of Dr. Riley Williams III. Rehabilitation begins next week and Kea is expected to make a full recovery.
A North Carolina alumna, Kea joined the Liberty in the middle stages of the WNBA’s bubble season in Bradenton. Entering the league as a third-round pick to Indiana in 2019, Kea averaged 6.9 points over 11 games (five starts), her best output being a 21-point tally against her former team in September. Kea is set to enter free agency, but the Liberty maintain her rights. During her time at Chapel Hill, Kea earned consecutive first-team All-ACC honors, honored alongside current New York teammate Asia Durr.
Elsewhere on Thursday, the Liberty also announced a collaboration with the National Women’s Hockey League, which is set to begin a bubbled season in Lake Placid, NY. In support of the Metropolitan Riveters, cardboard incarnations of Sabrina Ionescu, Layshia Clarendon, Jazmine Jones, Jocelyn Willoughby and Amanda Zahui B. will appear in the bubble at Herb Brooks Arena. The Liberty are one of two WNBA teams partaking in the NWHL union, joining the Connecticut Sun and their union with the Connecticut Whale. Normally playing their games at Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, the Riveters won the league’s Isobel Cup in 2018. The New York Rangers will likewise be “sending” some representatives.
The Liberty will choose first in the 2021 WNBA Draft, set to be held later this spring.
New York Liberty veteran Layshia Clarendon announced this week that she and her wife Jessica (nee Dolan) welcomed their first child on Christmas Day.
“You were a hope, a dream, a conversation, and a long 41 week [sic] wait and now you are here. How could Christmas get any sweeter than this?” Clarendon said in their Instagram post commemorating the arrival. “2020 was a year full of grief, fear, and deep wounds. The journey to this moment has been a salve for our souls every step of the way. Don’t hesitate to embrace and celebrate your joy. We all deserve it, in times like these, and always. #BabyC #CallMeBigPoppa.”
Clarendon, 29, has been married to Dolan, a senior manager at the Wasserman agency and fellow Cal-Berkeley alumna, since 2017. The 2017 WNBA All-Star has been one of the more active voices in the WNBA’s social justice endeavors. She joined the Liberty last season on a two-year deal, serving as one of the few veterans and the most experienced representative on a New York squad stacked with rookies. In addition to their on-court duties, Clarendon also serves on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council, which also includes Liberty CEO Keia Clarke.
Over eight WNBA seasons, Clarendon has averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 assists in a career that has also visited Indiana, Atlanta, and Connecticut. She put up a career-best 11.5 points per game in last season’s bubble-based endeavor in Bradenton, with her season-best tally of 20 coming in the Liberty’s opener against Seattle in July.
While the plans for the 2021 WNBA season have not been revealed, the Liberty will choose first in the upcoming draft this spring. It will mark the second consecutive season in which they will choose first.
The New York Liberty will have the top odds in the 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery, which will be held on Friday night.
‘Twas three weeks before Christmas, but the New York Liberty could gain a special early gift later this week.
The WNBA has announced that the 2021 Draft Lottery will be staged on Friday night during halftime of the anticipated college basketball matchup between No. 20 DePaul and No. 5 Louisville. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, which will carry lottery proceedings for the ninth consecutive season. LaChina Robinson will host the reveal, which will be overseen by WNBA Head of League Operations Bethany Donaphin.
New York will have the best odds entering Friday’s drawing, which takes into account cumulative records over the past two seasons for the four non-playoff teams. Weighed down in a rebuilding effort, the Liberty went 12-44 over the past two showings, including a 2-20 mark in the WNBA’s abbreviated bubble season in Bradenton, Florida.
This gives them a 44.2 percent chance of securing the top overall pick for the second straight season. Last time around, the Liberty leaped from the second-best odds to essentially “win” the Draft Lottery for the first time in team history. New York used that selection to take college basketball sensation Sabrina Ionescu out of Oregon in the most recent selections last April. Ionescu partook in three games in the Bradenton bubble before an ankle injury prematurely ended her debut season.
Behind the Liberty, the Atlanta Dream (15-41) have the second-best odds at 27.6 percent, followed by the Dallas Wings (18-38, 17.8) and Indiana Fever (19-37, 10.4). The remaining picks in the first round, consisting of 2020 playoff teams, have already been sorted through the inversion of regular season records, which will likewise determine the full order for the second and third rounds as well.
Staging the Draft Lottery during a Louisville basketball holds a sense of irony for the Liberty. Three former Cardinals currently reside on the Liberty roster, including 2019’s second overall pick Asia Durr. While Durr opted out of the bubble endeavor, the team was nonetheless represented through Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook, who were respectively taken with 12th and 13th picks during last spring’s draft. Jones was later named to the WNBA’s All-Rookie team, becoming the first New Yorker to do so since Brittany Boyd and current teammate Kiah Stokes earned the honor in 2015. Modern Louisville senior Dana Evans (18.0 points, 4.2 assists per game in 2019-20) is expected to be a first-round choice next spring.
Other big name prospects at the top of the 2021 draft board will include Rennia Davis (Tennessee), Destiny Slocum (Oregon State), and Didi Richards (Baylor). Texas junior Charli Collier has been pegged as a potential early entrant.