ESM’s New York Liberty free agency preview 2021

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…

Resolved

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.

Core/Unrestricted

The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.

Reserved

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

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.

Suspended/Expired

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.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Liberty: Paris Kea undergoes successful knee surgery

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.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty: Paris Kea earns a career-night in latest loss

The New York Liberty fell to their sisters in elimination from Indiana, but the midseason acquisition Kea had a career-best 21 points.

Another New York Liberty loss on Thursday night nonetheless yielded more personal history for members of their young roster.

Paris Kea tallied a career-best 21 points while Jazmine Jones put in 10 rebounds. Their efforts weren’t enough to prevent an 85-75 loss to the Indiana Fever, but strong efforts from the young players were signs of the growth that the Liberty endlessly sought in a trying season.

“Jones is such an aggressive player,” head coach Walt Hopkins noted. “I think she gets fed up at times. It’s part of what makes her brilliant. She’s so hard to guard.”

Kea returned to the starting lineup on Thursday, subbing for the injured Layshia Clarendon. The latter is set to miss the remainder of the Liberty’s seasons with a back ailment.

In only her ninth game of the season, Kea’s strong shooting allowed the Liberty (2-18) to build an early lead then keep pace when Indiana (6-15) began to build a lead thanks to Teaira McCowan’s antics off the bench in the second quarter. The second-year reserve sank each of her six shots in the first half but late triples from Kea and Kia Nurse helped New York trim their halftime deficit to 46-42. Nurse was right behind Kea with 18 points. Thursday saw Nurse scored her 1,000th career WNBA point in her third season.

The rise of Kea has been one of the Liberty’s more intriguing stories in the Bradenton bubble. Injuries forced the Liberty’s hand in adding Kea, who spent her rookie season in Indiana. She praised her teammates’ energy for inspiring her to take shots en route to her best single-game numbers.

“I take it one game at a time, trying to get better. I want to win,” Kea said. “Every night I’m going in with all I got to win. That’s really my mentality: to find however I can contribute to the team and get a W.”

Jones, the final pick of the most recent WNBA Draft’s first round, returned to action after sitting out the entirety of the Liberty’s Tuesday tilt against Los Angeles. She fell just short of a double-double with nine points accompanying her decalogue of rebounds.

In a battle of the only two WNBA teams to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Fever took over the game with a strong fourth, outscoring New York 23-13. Candice Dupree led all scorers with 22 points in victory, while Kelsey Mitchell added 14 more.

The Liberty will play their penultimate game of the bubble season on Saturday afternoon against the defending champion Washington Mystics (12 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go/CBSSN). New York will look for a season sweep, with one of their two wins coming against Washington on August 7.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Liberty fall despite WNBA history from Amanda Zahui B

Another bad quarter sank the New York Liberty on Saturday afternoon despite Amanda Zahui B making WNBA history.

WNBA history wasn’t enough to withstand another tough fourth quarter for the New York Liberty.

Amanda Zahui B had a WNBA record 21 defensive rebounds but a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter doomed them to an 80-63 loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday afternoon in the Bradenton bubble. A’ja Wilson led the way with 20 points for Las Vegas while Dearica Hamby had a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) off the bench. Each team returned to action after the WNBA joined the wave of athlete strikes across North America in protest of racial injustice.

The fourth quarter marred what was otherwise a strong, respectable day for the Liberty (2-13), who had won the third quarter by a 21-17 margin. Zahui B’s 21 rebounds made up for a tough shooting day from the field (2-of-11) and broke a Liberty record previously held by Tina Charles since July 2017. Her league record shattered a mark set by Detroit’s Cindy Brown during the 1998 season…the Association’s second year of existence.

“I think she’s at a point where she’s comfortable understanding where if her shots aren’t falling she can do other things for this team,” head coach Walt Hopkins said of Zahui B’s performance. “I thought her one-on-one defense was pretty darn good. Her rebounds were huge, obviously.”

Zahui B declined to comment on basketball matters, expressing only sadness at continued instances of racial injustice. She has been a vocal leader in activism in both American and her native Sweden.

Personal history was also set on the Liberty through Paris Kea. The mid-season acquisition scored a career-high 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including 4-of-6 from three-point range). Elsewhere, Kiah Stokes fell just short of a triple-double (12 points, 9 rebounds) and Layshia Clarendon scored 11 more in defeat. Clarendon has been a vocal voice in the WNBA’s social justice initiatives and recited Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” during a candlelit vigil held during the postponements caused by the strike.

With their win, Las Vegas (12-3) moves into a first-place tie with Seattle. The Aces also clinched their second consecutive playoff spot, becoming the first team officially enter the postseason bracket as the WNBA regular season enters its latter stages.

The Liberty return to action on Tuesday as they play their second game of the season against the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m., Fox Sports Go/CBSSN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty add free agent Paris Kea to their roster

With several key contributors out, the New York Liberty added the North Carolina alumna. She played 11 games with Indiana last year.

The New York Liberty have confirmed the signing of free agent guard Paris Kea to their roster.

Kea, 24, was a third-round pick out of North Carolina (25th overall) of the Indiana Fever in the 2019 WNBA Draft. In three seasons with the Tar Heels (after transferring from Vanderbilt), Kea averaged 18 points per game, the second-best tally in program history. Her final two seasons saw her earn back-to-back First-Team All-ACC honors and her total point tally of 1,637 is the seventh-best in Chapel Hill history over a three-year span. Additionally, she reached 30 points in seven games over her career, also good for second-best in the blue archives.

A native of Tarboro, NC, Kea was a two-sport athlete in high school, also playing soccer. She also partook in international endeavors in 2014, representing the United States in the FIBA America U18 Championship for Women. The USA took home the gold with a team that included Kea, A’ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier, and Teaira McCowan.

Kea played 11 games with Indiana last season. Ironically, her best performance of the season came against the Liberty. In a June tilt at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Kea made her WNBA debut to the tune of 10 points (4-of-6 shooting) in a 92-77 Fever victory. She was released by Indiana in April.

New York had an open roster spot after several opt-outs and also sought depth after top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu went down with an ankle injury. Kia Nurse and Jazmine Jones have likewise missed time, albeit only one full game each, due to injury.

The Liberty (1-5) earned their first win of the season on Friday night, topping the defending champion Washington Mystics 74-66. They’ll look to start a streak on Sunday late afternoon against the Las Vegas Aces (5 p.m. ET, YES).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags