February 26, 2024 

Breanna Stewart re-signs with the New York Liberty

The reigning league MVP Stewart signs a one-year unprotected deal

It’s been 129 days since New York Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb told a room of reporters on a rainy gloomy day in October, two days after the Liberty had lost the WNBA Finals, that the league’s reigning MVP Breanna Stewart would be cored come January 11, 2024. From then on it was guaranteed that the Liberty would have exclusive negotiation rights with the 2X MVP.  

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Stewart didn’t really mind the news, as this had been part of her plan all along when she agreed to make the cross-country move and return to the East coast a little bit over a year ago. She wasn’t going to leave the city and franchise that gave her a new moniker: Stew York.

After she spent the majority of her offseason making Brooklyn and the city of New York her home alongside her wife, dog and now two children, Stewart and the Liberty at last put pen to paper. 

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NBA insider Shams Charania reported on Monday afternoon that Stewart had agreed to terms to return to New York on a one-year-deal below the maximum. Our Howard Megdal reported her precise 2024 salary: $205,000. When Stewart was initially cored back in Janaury, she was offered a supermaximum contract of $241,984. 

While Stewart taking a discount was expected—a sacrifice that nearly all the Liberty’s starters made in their 2024 contracts—what wasn’t expected however, was for Stewart to sign an unprotected deal, which Charania also reported on Monday afternoon. What was the reason for this?

A league source told The Next that the reason was to give the Liberty much more roster flexibility that sometimes that the WNBA’s salary cap cannot provide. A protected deal, or guaranteed money on a WNBA roster, used to be and still is a symbol of status and respect for the league’s best players. It’s a sign that barring unforeseen circumstances, that player will be on the roster. But, what about for players that know that their teams won’t cut them? For instance, homegrown talent Sabrina Ionescu signed an unprotected contract extension last spring. 

This philosophy was how New York was able to convince new wing Kennedy Burke to sign on and leave her French club team early and be on time for training camp. The Liberty couldn’t provide Burke with more than a veteran minimum deal ($76,535) because Stewart’s core offer hadn’t yet been negotiated. That $241,984 stays on the Liberty’s salary cap until it is negotiated and signed.

Stewart signing an unprotected deal allows the Liberty a bunch of different options: not only can they offer another player guaranteed money instead of a larger monetary contract, but they can also explore and execute trades for protected players prior to the August 20 trade deadline if they so choose.

As it stands, the Liberty have $100,865 left to spend to adhere to the salary cap based on who is expected to make the final roster. In addition to the starting five of Stewart, Ionescu, Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney, Courtney Vandersloot, sixth player Kayla Thornton, newly signed Burke, rising sophomore Nyara Sabally, expect rookie Leonie Fiebich and Ivana Dojkić to also make the final roster. That’s ten total players. 

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The Liberty most likely will roster 11 players to begin the season. A 2024 draft pick or a player on a lower minimum ($64,154) or an upper minimum ($76,535) could fill that final spot. But, unlike last year, the Liberty will have remaining cap space that gives them an extra cushion for any unforeseen injuries or circumstances that try to get in the way of the Liberty’s journey back to the WNBA finals. That cap space could go to hardship contracts to cover for injuries or even a prorated deal for a potential 12th player who could arrive late. Remember: Marine Johannès still doesn’t have to adhere to prioritization this year and could come over after the Olympics if she would like.

Now, back to Stewart. Signing a deal that’s below her worth and that allows the team around her to be even better than it was in 2023 is once again exemplary of the sacrifice Stewart discussed while she was introduced to New York just over a year ago.

“It’s a monumental day in New York as we are thrilled to welcome back the MVP, Breanna Stewart,” Kolb said in a team press release. “Stewie’s return marks our unwavering commitment to excellence and our collective drive to bring a championship to New York.”

In just 62 days that drive of Stewart’s will kick into high gear. In just two months, the Liberty’s journey toward a WNBA championship will yet again commence.

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Written by Jackie Powell

Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.

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