Is a franchise icon on her way out?
When I asked New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb about if he had been keeping tabs on his current roster in their overseas and international commitments in preparation for Tokyo, wing Rebecca Allen was immediately mentioned.
“Rebecca Allen showed what she can do and what we are really excited about what she can do,” he said. “In terms of just really spreading the floor and when we talk about that three-point identity, we think Bec is poised for a break out year with us.”
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Tina Charles did not come up.
On Tuesday, High Post Hoops reported that the Phoenix Mercury are in advanced talks with New York to acquire Charles in a trade.
When I asked Kolb later in our discussion about how the new addition of assistant coach Shelley Patterson will not only benefit the young players but how she’ll benefit veterans like Clarendon and Charles, Kolb paused and mentioned Patterson and her many benefits to the organization. There was not one mention of the 7x All-Star.
When I saw Charles in late January in Hartford, Connecticut at USA Basketball’s practice before their matchup against UConn, she spoke a bit about the latest Liberty developments. Her answers weren’t very personal at all.
“It’s more important for the fans,” she said when asked about the move to Barclays Center. “The fans that weren’t able to get to Westchester the last two years. The majority of fans of New York are more in the city, you know the five boroughs. I know they’ll be looking forward to it.”
When asked if she had spoken to head coach Hopkins on the phone post his hire, Charles chose her words carefully.
“I know they want to rebuild and focus a lot on the younger players and making sure that they are well developed and reflecting what the New York brand is.”
I pressed further and wanted to know how she sees herself contributing. “Just being a leader, that’s the best way I can be,” she answered.
It has been Charles’ childhood dream to play for the New York Liberty and win a title in Seafoam. And in January, Hopkins and Kolb praised what she could bring to a young and improved roster. Kolb said: “Tina Charles is New York basketball.” And if she isn’t anymore?
That leaves plenty of questions.
If Charles leaves, what’s next?
Now what does New York get in return for Charles if she indeed packs her bags for Phoenix? With the Mercury acquiring Skylar Diggans-Smith, they have traded their top draft picks over to the Dallas Wings, who we will get to in a moment. Former Liberty combo guard Bria Hartley signed with Phoenix officially on Thursday. Would Charles want to be reunited with Hartley and her adorable three-year-old son Bryson, who Charles was seen engaging with often during pre-game stretches? We’ll see.
New York should be interested in acquiring second-year bigs like 6’4 Aussie Alanna Smith, whose shooting range is particularly geared toward Hopkins’ philosophy, or 6’3 Notre Dame alumna Brianna Turner.
Ideas have floated that the Liberty could be interested in having multiple 2020 draft picks from the top 5. The goal here would be to draft a big who could either a) rim protect and shoot from three (Lauren Cox or Satou Sabally if she declares for the draft) or b) draft Ruthy Hebard who enjoys a strong partnership already at Oregon with New York’s predicted number 1 overall pick, Ionescu.
Enter the Wings, who own four of the first nine 2020 first-round draft picks. Dallas seemingly has a surplus of bigs from the Diggins-Smith and Astou Ndour trades. Does that sound familiar? The Liberty have a surplus of guards now with Clarendon signed on for 2020.
Another route New York could take with Dallas, without or with Charles on the move, would be to trade for Ndour, who basically is a little bit more experienced than Cox , Sabally or Hebard. With a 6’5 frame, Ndour shot over 40 percent from three in 2019. She fits the Hopkins mold to a tee.
How would they do it? Trade Brittany Boyd (the Wings need a point guard who can distribute rather than score with Arike Ogunbowale at the two) and Kiah Stokes, who could thrive as a veteran in a Brian Agler-style defense. Agler would pick up veterans who could play alongside a very young core.
Now how do the rest of the other pieces fit together? Reshanda Gray and Nayo-Raincock Ekunwe are reserved but haven’t signed contracts. Han Xu and Amanda Zahui B. are the only current frontcourt players who are set. Zahui B. happens to be incredibly excited for 2020.
A tree is truly growing in Brooklyn, but for Charles, maybe it’s taking too long? With roots taking later rather than sooner to sprout, she might say goodbye to her home and the franchise where she is the all-time scoring leader. If that is the case, New York retools, gets even younger and can clear some cap space.
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