December 29, 2020
Crowdsourcing the New York Liberty offseason wishlist
Making sense of your thoughts and mine, with charts, graphs and rhyming couplets
Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited, and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives, and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues, and grows. Subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
The most riveting time of the year is approaching, and as Derek Fisher will see, it’s harder than just coaching. The WNBA’s free agency period is almost here, after of course, the new year.
Jonathan Kolb’s countdown clock now reads 17 days. His mission? Hybrid rebuild. Could that set the league ablaze?
The Liberty’s 2020 roster noted their essentials on their own holiday-themed wishlists, but when it comes to roster construction, it’s now time to share both yours and my picks.
With around 50 responses, I thank all who partook in my free agency survey. It was a place for qualitative data, assessing the physical and interpersonal traits that New York desires in someone who’s looking for their payday.
On draft lottery night, Kolb addressed the question of which position his team could use the most. He replied: “I think probably geared more towards the post.”
In both the free agency period and the 2021 WNBA draft, new player additions ought to be compatible with the system; they’ve got to be able to space the floor.
“But as you know, we play a five-out system,” he said. “Last year we had shooters, we need shot makers, and that’s what we’re gonna be looking for.”
In the chart below, you concur.
“The only player I would consider untouchable is Sabrina,” one person from the survey replied.
In October, I had an idea of what the Liberty should be seeking.
With less than a month away from when the action begins, the 2021 unrestricted free-agent class hold some offseason wins.
Above all, the Liberty need a versatile three-point shooting big who has not only size and strength, but athleticism. In Hopkins’ motion offense those are non-negotiables. But also vital for Hopkins is how players function within the team culture and respond to his coaching style.
This offseason, New York will aim to maintain balance, targeting folks who both match desired skillsets, but also people who have selfless personalities and are givers of energy to others.
This exercise didn’t necessarily lead to one definitive solution.
Here’s the what with a bit of the who.
If the Liberty play their free agent cards right, the losing could pass like a ship in the night.
Fit within a motion offense
Whose athleticism, size, and versatility fit New York’s five-out offense best? While results didn’t yield a majority, it was Natasha Howard who won this contest.
Howard is called The Flash for a reason—just watch her run the floor.
One response noted how Howard’s the best combo of “age and skill.” At 29, she can run, rebound, shoot threes and even penetrate downhill.
Playing at either the five or the four, Rebecca Lobo said: “She’s as good as anyone at finishing in pick and roll.”
Could Howard swap from Sue to Sabrina? She’ll have to be cajoled. But what could make her leave is a change in her role.
With Breanna Stewart healthy, Howard is far from the focus. But signing with New York means she’ll have to be more outspoken. She ought to be up to the challenge to lead if she wants to succeed.
Neah Odom is a worthy mentee, Shelly Patterson said she resembled Howard’s skillset most perfectly.
Howard isn’t a traditional post, but that seems to be what the Liberty desire the most.
They drafted Odom, Kylee Shook, and Jocelyn Willoughby. All are versatile, as are Bec Allen and Amanda Zahui B.
But Kolb and Hopkins could shift their approach and opt to pursue a superstar to help lead in the post.
While Nneka and Candace finished second and third in the chart above, Liz Cambage is one I’m thinking of.
First let’s state the obvious: “do you know who Liz Cambage is?” a person from the survey chimed in. She’s a walking bucket.
She adds agility and ability to score from anywhere on the floor, making it easier for Sabrina to find the cutter she’s looking for.
Imagine a recreation of Sue and Lauren Jackson on the east coast — a championship is what Liberty fans want the most.
For Cambage, a Hopkins system rather than Laimbeer? After all, last season, Vegas took a leap, A’ja had a career year.
The Aces need a bit more floor spacing in 2021, and the Liberty have more than just some.
If Vegas cores her, a trade could be in the works, but let’s get back to Liz, her game has so many perks.
There’s a reason Cambage often “jokes” about playing point guard. She wants to prove that she has other skills on her calling card.
Aside from her size and strength on the block, she has the moves and the handles to leave fellow bigs in shock.
In a Hopkins system, Liz would have the freedom to do more of this, find cutters moving toward the basket unlikely to miss.
New York could play four-out in addition to five. On the Storm, that’s how they play, and Mercedes Russell thrives.
In 2011, Cambage was young in a country all new. She’d make a great mentor and friend to Lib center Han Xu.
But questions do arise about how long Cambage has her eyes on the prize. In 2019, she said that she’d play for two more years, and then consider retiring, or at least taking a break from basketball.
The Tokyo Olympics and a WNBA championship are still on her mind. But can medal and a trophy align in that time?
Shotmakers and shot alterers
While GM Kolb was pleased with the Liberty’s new system, he emphasized execution as the goal for next year.
He mentioned the term “shotmakers” as integral for a reason. (I don’t have to remind y’all what their FG% was last season.)
But, scorers from deep aren’t only what the Liberty seek, they need two-way talent for New York to peak.
2019’s DPOY Natasha Howard rings a bell again, but 2020’s defensive player Candace Parker is a viable option. One person from the survey remarked: “She’s used to big markets and seems somewhat unhappy with the LA organization [The Sparks]. Her experience could add insights to young players such as Ionescu.” Is it even possible for Parker to come to New York’s rescue?
Just because she’s viable doesn’t make her probable.
Aside from buying a new farmhouse in Cali, returning to hometown Chicago or TNT’s Atlanta sounds much more up her alley.
Another Parker! Well, that’s Cheyenne. She actually could be a name we hear about time and again.
With Stevens, Dolson and Hebard, Chicago seems a bit loaded with bigs. If offered a larger role in Brooklyn, could Barclays be Cheyenne’s new digs?
During the Wubble season she shot almost 47 percent from three. Okay, I’m sold, that sounds nice to me.
A heavy hitter that came as a surprise was how Alyssa Thomas was popularized. On one question, the survey’s voters gave her as many tallies as CP3. But really, it was AT’s defense that was award-worthy for me.
She makes 50 percent of her shots and puts opposing defenses in knots. As one person wrote, the Liberty still just “need an engine.”
Let’s be clear, AT is elite, she can both pass and score. But expect Curt Miller to keep her with a core.
Alysha Clark also appears unlikely. While she would fit into the motion offense the Liberty are going to run, Seattle just can’t bear to lose her lockdown defense, IQ, and annual toy drive.
Her leadership and postseason experience too, don’t forget about her incredibly crafty post moves. I don’t see Clark willing to leave the Space Needle.
Leadership and postseason experience
What helps those teams looking to utilize free agency this season is the group of teams who have to be a bit more frugal. For teams like the Liberty, however, this is an opportunity.
“But a big thing to take advantage of is overleveraged teams like Los Angeles, Washington, or Seattle, who might not have a choice but to let a strong asset walk,” someone who took the survey remarked.
Let’s talk Washington. Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud, Aerial Powers, and Emma Meesseman are all unrestricted free agents. Keeping them all would be virtually impossible. The best fit for New York would be Meesseman.
New York needs a center who’s more than just muscles, who better than a stretch five who hails from near Brussels?
Meesseman has come through in the clutch and that’s worth noting. One of y’all wrote that she’s a “hybrid” post. That helps solve the “wing or post” conundrum.
While her defense isn’t often touted, colleague Jenn Hatfield noted she’s found it “generally solid.” She rebounds well and shot blocks, but someone who can transform into “playoff Emma” totally rocks. But another player who leaves for EuroBasket further complicates New York’s already-international roster. Her leadership is less vocal, but watching how she handled adversity in 2020 leaves me a bit more hopeful.
While she’ll need the right talent around her to succeed, she’s a star who understands what rebuilds need.
The only other finals MVP who’s a FA is CP3. Candace Parker’s 2016 WNBA finals performance was nothing short of inspiring, but let’s remember there was another star on that squad.
Nneka Ogwumike, that season’s MVP, scored the winning putback, leaving the Sparks filled with glee.
High character individuals
Now speaking of Nneka, she might have the best mix of characteristics that the Liberty desperately need. Her abilities fit into how New York plays offense and her defense is elite.
Kolb values high character. “When you’re in the trenches and it gets tough, you want to be next to somebody that’s going to back you up,” he said.
Tara VanDerveer called her former player “the glue,” a great leader who cared for her teammates like nobody knew.
“And someone that our team loved playing with, a very unselfish player,” VanDerveer replied. “Someone that always cared about everyone all the time.”
Readers loved the possibility of Nneka in New York, but many thought that without sister Chiney involved, it would be a tough sell. One person had the ultimate pipe dream: bring Chiney to New York and she can work out of ESPN’s Seaport Studio team.
“Playoff/championship experience with excellent work ethic,” wrote a reader. “This team is so young that they need that knowledge in the locker room from someone who is a good leader.”
Nneka in New York? That’s home to the WNBPA. If she’s willing, Kolb and Hopkins should sure find a way.
Player’s union VP Layshia Clarendon could help, too.
Lay could convince Nneka to hop “on the path less taken and leave Los Angeles as the team that is forsaken.
The point remains: familiarity is a large part of the free agency game. Let’s run through some more examples, shall we? Walt Hopkins and Shelley Patterson worked with Howard back in Minnesota. Then there’s Hopkins, Kelly Raimon and Liz. Raimon met and worked with Liz in Las Vegas.
They met back in 2013 on the Tulsa Shock. A coach, a player, both new on the block.
The two have kept in touch. She posted an Instagram story in August congratulating him on his first win. But if Liz joins his team, there will be many more to relive.
Ok. Ok. What’s Next?
And the draft?
Kolb will take to free agency first to set direction for April. But trading the number one pick is not off the table.
If the Liberty do trade the number one pick, what’s their next step? Almost 80 percent of you said what they get in return should be a highly regarded vet. Just understand, it has to be the right personal fit, too.
As for who goes: Megan Walker, Kia Nurse and Asia Durr seem to be the three who y’all would trade. Does Nurse’s down year prevent her from staying?
Jazmine Jones might have the highest capital of them all, but that’s still such a tough call.
I also asked who under contract should New York try to pursue. Myisha Hines-Allen? Sorry, that’s too good to be true.
So who stays? Who goes? Predictions right here, but it’s hard to tell exactly who is in the clear.
One person asked, who are they building around? The 2020 draft class or the players who opted out? The certainty is Sabrina. The rest is to be determined.
“You can’t win in the league without at least two superstars,” someone from the survey said. “Getting two needs to be part of their plan. They have zero proven ones now.”
But Sabrina’s a lure that can soon draw a crowd. Kolb and Hopkins will make sure you’ll get #LibertyLoud.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also covers women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.