Did the Liberty do enough tinkering to return to the playoffs?
Twenty-two seasons of the WNBA and not one played without the New York Liberty. There has also been a 22-year drought of a WNBA title and 16 years since the last New York WNBA Finals appearance.
More from High Post Hoops
- Bet $5 on Sparks vs. Sky, Win $150 Instantly with Limited-Time DraftKings Promo
- Cash in for Over $2,000 With WNBA Promo Bonuses from FanDuel & Caesars
- FanDuel WNBA Promo Code Gives You $2,500 Bonus for ANY Game Tonight!
- Unlock $200 GUARANTEED With Crazy DraftKings WNBA Promo
- Unlock Over $4,500 Bonus With 3 Best WNBA Sportsbook Promos!
Like any true New Yorker, I am prepared to offer a critical and occasionally dramatic critique of the home team, while viciously defending my local team among company. Luckily for our High Post Hoops readers, you are definitely family, so you will get the full analysis.
Training camp roster
The Liberty returned seven players from the 2018 season for the 2019 Training Camp Roster. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, a 2017 roster selection, returns after spending the 2018 season with Team Canada ahead of World Championships. Veteran Tanisha Wright also returns after spending the 2018 season with the Minnesota Lynx.
WNBA six-time All-Star and newly minted director Tina Charles is still the unquestionable leader of the franchise. Kia Nurse and Brittany Boyd will need big seasons for the New York Liberty this season as well. Nurse is coming off her rookie WNBA season and a professional championship with Canberra in the WNBL league.
Boyd is coming back from another injury, but the spark she brings at full health for a New York team that loves to run is critical. She can also drive to the lane as effectively as anyone on the New York roster. Her aggressive style brings the excitement and swagger the Liberty franchise is known for.
At the moment, neither Nurse or Boyd is the answer at point guard. In fact, in the opening preseason game against China, Nurse was positioned at the small forward or three spot. Rebecca Allen as played at the three for the Liberty, it will be interesting to see how the Australian sharp shooter is deployed by Katie Smith and company this season. Allen has gotten stronger on defense and her ability to shoot from distance will be important to spread the floor and open things up for Charles or Han Xu down low on the block.
The Rookie Class
Han along with Asia Durr, and Megan Huff came to the Liberty by way of the 2019 WNBA Draft. In addition to three draft picks, rookie hopefuls Talia Caldwell, Bianca Cuevas-Moore, and Marine Johannes have cracked the 2019 Training Camp roster. Kolby Morgan of Tulane was waived after the first preseason game against Team China.
Han and Durr look in pretty good shape to make the final roster. Durr was an important second overall pick for a team looking to get back into gear. She offers another option for the Liberty at the guard positions. Like Boyd, Durr can accelerate well and create shots for her and her teammates.
Han brings size and some scoring options the Liberty haven’t had, other than Charles, consistently. Players with height like Amanda Zahui B., Kiah Stokes, and Kia Vaughn have been deployed in spurts, but not exactly a viable option to compete for Tina’s minutes or points.
At 19, it’s hard to say Han will realistically either compete for minutes with Charles or reach her points average in her rookie season. However, if she can even reach 19 points consistently, as she did in her preseason debut, that is huge for the Liberty.
The Final Roster
Only 12 players can make each of the 12 WNBA rosters. That’s 144 spots! Katie Smith and her staff will use the short training camp and three preseason games to get a feel for what the team will look like for the 34-game season. Given the players returning and the players not, the New York Liberty appear to have five roster spots up for grabs.
The following players will not return to the Liberty this season
- Marisa Coleman
- Epiphanny Prince
- Kia Vaughn
- Shavonte Zellous
- Sugar Rodgers
Zellous and Rodgers are with the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces, respectively. Coleman, Vaughn, and Prince.
If I were a betting woman, I would lock in the following players:
- F – Tina Charles
- C – Han Xu
- G/F – Kia Nurse
- G – Bria Hartley
- G- Tanishia Wright
- G – Asia Durr
- F – Rebecca Allen
- C – Kiah Stokes
- C – Amanda Zahui B.
- F/C Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe
- G – Marine Johannes
The final two spots will likely go to forwards, especially if Raincock-Ekunwe, who is listed as a forward/center, makes the team. It is hard to determine some of the head-to-heads at each position, considering several players are still not back from overseas. In that case, players will WNBA experience might be given the advantage.
Overall, I think the Liberty can have a solid roster, but there is concern if they have enough leadership to push through the tough times of the season. Last season, time after time first year head coach Katie Smith expressed frustration with her team. Last Thursday, her focus for the remainder of the preseason was getting her team focused.
“At the end of the day, what I really want to see is the effort every single day,” Smith said in the final question of the preseason post game presser. “The other part of it is the focus, being able to lock in on what we’ve told them, being able to lock in a remember the option outside of the play. Those are the things that are the controllables … its the effort and the focus that I want to see every single possession and not wait ’til the second half.”
It may sound simple, but if her team does that, they can live with the wins and losses. It may sound simple, but it was a main component that the New York Liberty lacked at key times last season. This is a franchise with a storied history, despite never winning a title. That history now rests at the feet of this team.
The elephant in the room
Whether fair or not, the franchise has a lot to prove since moving to Westchester County. The wins and losses of the team impact more than standings, but perhaps also the standing of the team itself. “I think the owner is only a part of what makes an organization attractive,” said new Liberty owner Joe Tsai at the Barclays Center Thursday night.
“What I think is important as the owner is to encourage and allow a positive culture, a sustainable winning culture in the organization.” For Tsai, that comes through front office staff, coaching staff, and performance staff. Through this staff, the hope is players know they are taken care of on and off the court. In return, the players can help compete at the highest level night after night.
Tsai knows he needs to bring Liberty fans back, especially those in the five boroughs. While he won’t make any promises that the Liberty will play in Barclays in the future, he is focused on building reviving a fan base, presumably to make the case the Liberty and the WNBA is worthy of the venue. To be clear, Tsai seems to get it,
"“As an owner, the most important thing for me, what I can do for the New York Liberty is to build up the fan base. That’s the foundation of everything. If you have more fans, then your media value and sponsorship rights value will increase. That will bring more value to whole team and the whole league … when those values increase, then everybody benefits., because then there will be more economics to spread around to the players as well.”"
However, he runs in a business world and arenas cost money. So, will the Liberty have a team that can stay focused on the court and climb up the standings week after week? Only time can tell. However, it feels like the Liberty need to be sure, for the sake of this season and beyond.
The New York Liberty open the 2019 season May 24 at home against the Indiana Fever.
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.