The return of Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to avoid another one-sided defeat in Las Vegas.
The best news emerging from Thursday night’s New York Liberty game is likely the fact they probably won’t have to return to Michelob Ultra Arena this season.
Sabrina Ionescu made her return as a reserve, but it wasn’t enough to reverse New York’s fortunes. Six Las Vegas Aces reached double-figures in scoring, paced by 18 from Kelsey Plum in a 103-76 victory. The Liberty (6-6) have now dropped five of their last six games after a 5-1 start. They’re 0-5 all-time in Sin City (since 2018), which hosts one of the WNBA’s original franchises in their third incarnation (previously based in Salt Lake City and San Antonio). Las Vegas (10-3) has swept the three-game season set, also winning by 22 on Tuesday.
ESM has three silver linings from this latest defeat…
3rd Star: Rebecca Allen
14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals
Allen has been filling Ionescu’s role in the starting five and but she continued to make her case for inclusion on the shortlist for Sixth Woman of the Year. Similar to her ten-minute takeover in the teams’ long meeting in Brooklyn earlier this month (14 points in the second quarter), Allen kept the Liberty’s fight going in the fourth quarter, picking up a dozen points to keep things semi-respectable.
2nd Star: Betnijah Laney
20 points, 4 assists
It came in yet another disheartening defeat, but Laney once again earned 20 after missing the mark in Tuesday’s matchup. The return to 20 points comes just in time for the start of All-Star Game voting for a game set to be held in…Las Vegas.
New York is 6-4 when Laney hits her magic 20.
1st Star: Reshanda Gray
17 rebounds, 4 rebounds
Gray is in the midst of her fourth term in New York, added on a hardship contract with Kiah Stokes competing overseas. As Stokes was not on Turkey’s EuroBasket roster for the upcoming tournament, it stands to reason that Gray’s metropolitan endeavors may be coming to an end.
But after Thursday’s display, it’s hard to justify sending her off into the WNBA wilderness. Not only is Gray a bona fide WNBA veteran that shouldn’t be reduced to hardship contracts for domestic work, but her ability to infiltrate the paint and work with the roll can’t be denied. Gray also became a thorn in the side of Liz Cambage, who voiced her frustrations to the officials to no avail. If anything, Gray continues to build her reputation as a walking, breathing, flesh-and-blood case for WNBA expansion, whether it’s through roster spots or cities.
The Liberty return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Sparks (4 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Six metropolitan reached double figures, paced by 20 from Betnijah Laney, as the New York Liberty (4-1) recovered from their first loss of the season through a 93-85 victory over the Chicago Sky on Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena.
Sabrina Ionescu earned another double-double while Natasha Howard earned 12 points and seven rebounds in her New York debut. Courtney Vandersloot had 15 assists for the Sky (2-1) in defeat.
ESM has the game ball from Sunday’s victory…
3rd Star: Rebecca Allen
13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals
Allen was a latecomer to the Liberty’s proceedings after finishing up her international duties in Spain. She has worked herself into a strong rhythm and contributed a little bit of everything on Sunday, finding a late shooting stroke and stifling Chicago’s comeback effort with strong defense.
The Liberty nearly endured disaster when Allen appeared to be shaken up after a late possession under the basket. Encouraged by teammate Betnijah Laney, Allen remained on the floor and recovered a missed free throw to pick one final and-one basket, delivering the dagger and the final points of the victory.
2nd Star: Betnijah Laney
20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
The Most Improved Player is turning the Liberty into a most improved team, as Laney once again reached 20 points, no having done so in each of her first five games in seafoam. She was pleased with the Liberty’s physicality in their Sunday victory as well as their resilience in overcoming Friday’s brutal loss in Washington.
“For us to know that we can play their style of basketball and be successful, I think it really is really good for us and it shows our strength,” Laney said. “We knew what we had to do and we just came out with the same energy (over the first three contests), approaching the games, the same way that we do every time.”
Sunday was a familiar battle for Ionescu, as she went up against former Oregon teammate Ruthy Hebard and their fellow Kelly Graves disciple Vandersloot (who worked with the current Ducks coach at Gonzaga). Ionescu responded with another double-double and got herself involved in several scrums under the basket. She was pleased that the team was able to win a physical battle, especially while embroiled in a three games-in-four days swing that ends tomorrow in Brooklyn against the Dallas Wings (7 p.m. ET, YES).
“It was a dogfight. But we came up and we were ready to play,” Ionescu said. “They’re tough, they’re a physical team, that’s kind of their MO. We knew that going in, and we definitely punched first and continued to punch. You know they were going through some runs, but I think defense is what really stepped up for us in this game and ultimately helped us.”
Sabrina Ionescu made WNBA history in just her sixth game, as the New York Liberty won their third straight to start the season.
Behind WNBA history from Sabrina Ionescu, the New York Liberty won their third straight game to open the season. The top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft earned the first triple-double in team history (10th in league history) en route to an 86-75 win over the Minnesota Lynx. New York (3-0) has won their first three games of the season for the first time since 2007.
ESM has three stars from Tuesday’s win…
3rd Star: Betnijah Laney
20 points, 5 assists
Poor Laney had perhaps the quietest 20-point game in team history, but it says something that Tuesday’s output was her lowest-scoring effort of the season. She’s also making the most of her chances, sinking 8-of-12 opportunities. A corner triple from Laney made it 50-47 in the third quarter, giving New York a lead they would never relinquish after trailing at halftime.
2nd Star: Sami Whitcomb
13 points, 8 rebounds
In the lead-up to the Minnesota game, head coach Walt Hopkins referred to her as an “unsung hero” in the Liberty lineup. The two-time champion was anything but unsung on Tuesday, hauling in a career-best eight rebounds and helped man the interior when it looked like Sylvia Fowles was about to take over. Fowles scored 16 points in the first half, but was held to only 10 in the second, part of that tally coming when the outcome was decided. It was in part thanks to the rebounding efforts of Whitcomb, who also sank some clutch triples to permanently give the Liberty the lead.
1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu
26 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds
A kid from Brooklyn who needs no supersoldier serum, Ionescu’s first two outings on Atlantic Avenue have been downright historic. Whether it was through clutch deep shots (one first-half three was taken from the 25th anniversary logo near midcourt) or setting up her teammates down below (namely Kylee Shook), Ionescu made sure the Liberty suffered no hangover from their opening two wins over Indiana. Everyone knew the kind of impact Ionescu could potentially make on both a New York and national landscape, but even the most unapologetic fan of the Oregon Duck couldn’t have seen this coming.
The Liberty return to action on Friday night on the road against the Washington Mystics (7 p.m. ET, YES).
The New York Liberty look to build on their first 2-0 start since 2016 as they enter the first full week of the 2021 season.
Three days into the 2021 WNBA campaign, the New York Liberty have earned the right to check a box on their season’s to-do list.
The Liberty (2-0) matched their win total from all of the woebegone 2020 season in the Bradenton bubble, sweeping the Indiana Fever in a home-and-home set on Friday and Sunday. Sabrina Ionescu’s game-winning triple in the final seconds allowed them to earn a 90-87 win in their full-time debut at Barclays Center before they held the lead all the way through the rematch at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a 73-65 triumph.
“It does mean something, going a whole season to get two wins versus coming out the gate the way that they did,” head coach Walt Hopkins said after Sunday’s win. “To have two wins and to come in on a back to back, for them to make the adjustments and to be able to still win on the road, it says a lot about them.”
ESM looks backward and onwards as the Liberty and the WNBA prepare to move forward on their respective 25th anniversary seasons…
Betnijah Laney was getting buckets in the 1st half 👀
Ionescu might’ve stolen the show with her Friday heroics, but Laney was by far the most consistent shooter the Liberty had to offer. The Rutgers alumna is once again making metropolitan basketball magic, pacing the Liberty in the early going with 25 points a game (second in the league after the first three days of action). Laney is proving that the successful Most Improved Player campaign she staged in the bubble was no fluke.
“I just want to continue to get better. That’s what I’m doing, I take my craft seriously. I’m continuing to build off of last year,” Laney said on Sunday, remarking on her first two games in the New York system. “It’s a pretty free and open offense, which I think works well. For me, it’s a lot similar to the offense that I saw last year (in Atlanta). “y teammates encouraged me and they find me and allow me to, you know, get to my shots and everything.”
Michaela Onyenwere hits the 3 for the first basket of the season!
Fresh out of UCLA, Michaela Onyenwere has made an instant impact in the New York lineup. She has appeared in the Liberty’s opening five in each of her first two contests and has tallied double figures in both appearances. The 18 she had on opening night in Brooklyn set a new team record for most points in a freshman debut, breaking a three-year mark held by Kia Nurse.
They Said It
“Simply put, she’s a bucket. In the first game, she did a pull-up and I was like, she is so good. Nobody came, nobody can guard Betnijah. She’s just so versatile, and her pull-up is always on, and even if it’s not, she finds other ways to get to the basket and facilitate…It’s just so cool. She’s definitely a vet that I can look to and ask questions, tell me where I need to be…She’s hard to guard and she’s just all around just a great teammate.”–Michaela Onyenwere on Betnijah Laney
“I think already having two and a half games under my belt from last season, I think that was what I needed, being able to see play against some top teams. I think that kind of gave me some confidence coming into this season and just understanding my role on this team, what we’re trying to accomplish, what I can do to help others, and what all of us can build together. So I’m definitely not taking that for granted.”-Sabrina Ionescu on how her brief time last year helped in her 2021
The first Walt Hopkins Bowl in Brooklyn stages the head coach and assistant Shelley Patterson against their former colleague and Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve. This game will also mark Minnesota assistant coach and Hall of Famer Katie Smith’s first visit to a New York basketball arena since she was relieved of her duties as Liberty head coach after two seasons in 2019.
The Lynx (0-1) are coming off a narrow loss to Phoenix on Friday night, as Diana Taurasi’s buzzer-beater negated an 18-point showing from Aerial Powers, who made her Great Lakes debut after parts of three seasons in Washington. Minnesota (14-8 last season) swept both matchups from the Liberty last season by a combined 56-point margin.
Friday @ Washington
(7 p.m. ET, YES)
The Liberty will face off against Tina Charles for the first time since the franchise’s all-time leading scorer was dealt for picks that eventually became Jazmine Jones and Michaela Onyenwere. Washington (0-1) played their first game in DC since they clinched the 2019 championship on Saturday, falling to Chicago 70-56. They welcomed in Charles but are still without 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, who is recovering from back surgeries.
Last season’s pair in Bradenton was split evenly, with the Liberty earning their first win of the year on August 7. Layshia Clarendon put up 14 points and six assists in the victory.
Sunday @ Chicago
(1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
A battle between New York and Chicago will have a strong Oregon feel to it, as Eugene gamechangers Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard will do battle for the first time. A showdown with the Sky produced the other of the Liberty’s Ionescu-free wins last season, as Clarendon put in 17 points, ending with the game-winning free throws, en route to a 101-99 win. Jocelyn Willoughby shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in the same game.
Chicago is one of the WNBA favorites this season with Windy City native Candace Parker in tow. She tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in the opening win over the Mystics, aided by 19 more from Kaleah Cooper.
Sabrina Ionescu kicked off the WNBA’s 25th season with a bang, hitting the game-winning in the New York Liberty’s 90-87 win over Indiana.
Sabrina Ionescu made a legendary Barclays Center debut, sinking a game-winning three-pointer with 0.4 seconds to go in a 90-87 triumph over the Indiana Fever. The Liberty (1-0) own a winning record for the first time since September 2017.
Michaela Onyenwere hits the 3 for the first basket of the season!
Onyenwere set a team rookie record by scoring 18 points in her first WNBA contest. She also didn’t hesitate to throw her body around in the paint, gaining five rebounds including one of only three on the offensive glass. Her first basket, a deep triple just over a minute in, opened scoring for the 2021 WNBA season as a whole, kickstarting her historic evening.
If she keeps things going at this torrid pace, the Most Improved Player from the WNBA’s Floridian endeavor might change that I to a V. Laney, perhaps inspired by battling a Fever team that cut her shortly before the bubbled season began (though she mostly denied such a notion), got things going early with 16 first-half points, having apparently brought her newfound sharpshooting abilities back from Florida with her.
Sabrina Ionescu sinking the game-winning basket in the Liberty’s first game in Brooklyn while kicking off the WNBA’s 25th anniversary season? A Hollywood studio would kick you to the curb for the lack of subtlety and nuance. But Ionescu reintroduced herself to the basketball world in downright magical fashion, sinking the game-winning triple with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock. Ionescu got off to a slow start, being held scoreless in the first quarter and hit only one of her first six attempts. But she more than made up for it with a stellar second half, scoring 18 points including a triple that will go down as the early best moment of the Walt Hopkins era to date.
The Liberty return to action on Sunday afternoon, finishing off a home-and-home with Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (2 p.m. ET, CBSSN).
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 received their schedule for the 2021 WNBA season, which will begin with four games on May 14. New York will battle the Indiana Fever in a Friday night showdown, tipping off at 7 p.m. ET. TV information will be released at a latter date.
This season marks the Liberty’s first campaign as full-time tenants at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which they share with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. It also marks the 25th anniversary for the Liberty, one of the three charter franchises remaining in the league that likewise celebrates its silver season (the others being the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury).
After a tough two-win season in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble, the Liberty made several offseason moves that have positioned them as one of the more intriguing teams in the Association. A trade involving the top overall pick in Thursday’s WNBA Draft (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) saw them net former WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb, additions that followed the signing of former Rutgers star and reigning Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney. New York will also welcome back several rookie-turned-sophomores from their Floridian endeavor, including 2020’s top overall choice Sabrina Ionescu and WNBA All-Rookie team nominee Jazmine Jones.
The 2021 WNBA regular season will run through Sunday, September 19. A break for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will commence on July 15 and run through August 11. Each of the league’s dozen teams will play 32 games and partake in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, an in-season tournament that will conclude with a championship game immediately after the Olympic pause, setting up the final push to the playoffs. Further details about the Commissioner’s Cup and a planned 2021 All-Star Game will be released at a further date.
Among the notable matchups on the Liberty ledger…
The Liberty will open their season with a home-and-home series against the Indiana Fever. New York undoubtedly will be seeking revenge for the 2019 opener, when Teaira McCowan’s buzzer-beater allowed the Fever to escape Westchester Counter Center with an 81-80 triumph. The teams will then meet at Bankers Life Field house for a 2 p.m. matinee matchup two days later.
Youth in revolt will be on full display on May 25, as the Liberty welcome the Dallas Wings to Brooklyn for a battle between the league’s two youngest squads. It will likely feature the first matchup between Oregon standouts Ionescu and Satou Sabally, a get-together delayed by Ionescu’s injury sustained in the early stages of last season.
The Liberty’s visit to Los Angeles is the only game scheduled for June 20 and it will likely pay tribute to the 25th anniversary of the WNBA’s first game, a 67-57 New York triumph at the Great Western Forum. It will also mark the Liberty’s first meeting with former fan favorite Amanda Zahui B, who signed with the Sparks after five metropolitan seasons.
Howard and Whitcomb will have to wait to weather the Storm, as the defending champions will visit Brooklyn for a two-part series on August 18 and 20.
In another happy return, Kia Nurse will return to New York on August 25 in the new colors of the Phoenix Mercury. Nurse, a first-round pick and All-Star in seafoam, was part of the three-team deal that sent Howard and Whitcomb out east.
The Liberty will conclude the 2021 regular season with a four-game road trip through Minnesota, Seattle, Dallas, and Connecticut before returning home to Brooklyn for their finale on September 17.
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
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.
An original star of the New York Liberty is set to take her second head coaching job after spending the past 15 years with the Aces franchise.
Per Chantel Jennings of The Athletic, New York Liberty legend Vickie Johnson is set to become the new head coach of the Dallas Wings. Johnson, 48, would be the 11th head coach of a franchise that began life as the Detroit Shock in 1998.
The Coushatta, Louisiana native has spent the past 15 years in some capacity with the Las Vegas Aces franchise, which was previously known as the San Antonio Silver Stars (later simply known as the Stars). She spent the final four seasons (2006-09) of her WNBA career with the team before serving as an assistant coach under Sandy Brondello (2010) and Dan Hughes (2011-16). Johnson would later oversee the final season in San Antonio (2017), going 8-28 before the team moved to Las Vegas. She was retained over the last three seasons on Bill Laimbeer’s staff, working alongside another Liberty alumna, Tanisha Wright, in the last.
Johnson began her WNBA career as an original member of the Liberty, drafted by the team in the “elite” portion (reserved for players who had previously played internationally) of the inaugural draft in 1997. Working with fellow former Louisiana Tech Lady Techster Teresa Weatherspoon and several others, Johnson helped the Liberty reach four of the first six WNBA Finals (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002). The team earned a franchise-best 21 wins in 2001, a record that stood until 2015. Johnson reached two All-Star Games as a member of the Liberty (1999, 2001). Upon her departure in 2005, she was the Liberty’s all-time leading scorer with 3,246 points, which was broken by Tina Charles in 2019. Johnson remains the Liberty’s all-time leader in games played (282) and is one of five players in the team’s Ring of Honor (joining teammates Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, Kym Hampton, Rebecca Lobo, and Sue Wicks).
In joining Dallas, Johnson inherits the only team in the WNBA that’s younger than the Liberty in terms of age. No one on the team has more than four years’ experience in the WNBA, the roster headlined by 2020 first-rounders Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, and Tyasha Harris. Sabally was the second overall pick in last April’s draft, chosen immediately after the Liberty took her Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu at No. 1. Also present is Arike Ogunbowale, the 2019 Rookie of the Year. Johnson takes over for Brian Agler, who went 18-38 in two seasons at the helm. Johnson will also be the first Black female to service in a head coaching capacity since Pokey Chatman in Indiana (2016-19).
The Liberty and Wings will each partake in the 2020 WNBA Draft Lottery on Friday night, set to be held during halftime of the college basketball game between Louisville and DePaul (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). New York will own the best odds in the lottery with a 44.2 percent chance of gaining the top overall pick. General manager Jonathan Kolb is expected to represent the team.