September 14, 2023 

How New York Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb won 2023 Basketball Executive of the Year

'He knows the CBA better than anyone I’ve ever spoken to'

What’s felt like a foregone conclusion since the day Breanna Stewart signed with the New York Liberty became official on Thursday: Jonathan Kolb is the WNBA’s 2023 Basketball Executive of the Year.

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Kolb is the first executive in Liberty team history to be honored with the award, which is determined through voting of the 12 league executives. Kolb received six first-place votes. Greg Bibb of the Dallas Wings and Darius Taylor of the Connecticut Sun received two first-place votes apiece.

This off-season, Kolb did something no WNBA GM had done before: acquired three players named WNBA All-Stars in the previous season. Signing Jonquel Jones, Stewart, and Courtney Vandersloot all but cemented the Liberty as a strong Championship contender, following a season where the team went 16-20 and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago Sky. In 2021, the Liberty finished just 12-20. 

“I am profoundly humbled to be named this year’s WNBA Basketball Executive of the Year by my esteemed peers, a group for whom I hold the deepest respect,” Kolb said in a press release. “This accolade, at its core, is a testament to the synergy of our team – from Clara and our ownership group’s unwavering trust, to lockstep partnership with Keia and our business team, the brilliance and unity our players exhibit on the court, the meticulous dedication of Sandy and our coaching staff, the strategy sessions with my confidant Ohemaa and our front office, and the ceaseless care factor from our performance staff and entire team.”

With the additions of 2021 MVP Jones and 2018 MVP Stewart, both of whom agreed to take less than a supermax salary to join the Liberty, as well as 5-time All-Star Vandersloot joining the strong backcourt of Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, the Liberty excelled first on paper, then on the court. The team finished the regular season 32-8, securing a second seed in the WNBA playoffs, hoping to win their first playoff series since 2015, and ultimately vie for the franchise’s first ever WNBA Championship.

This year, they boasted two All-Stars (Stewart and Ionescu), with Jones and Vandersloot also receiving votes. They’ve contributed to the numerous WNBA records set this season, including setting the record for assist percentage (they assisted on 75% of made baskets), individual 40-point games (Stewart had six), and individual made three-pointers (Ionescu had 128 in the regular season.)

“They should have given Jonathan that [award] in February,” Vandersloot told The Next. “I saw all the work that he put in to put this roster together, so it’s more than just the big names that he brought in. It’s crunching numbers, trying to make this work.” There’s so much that goes into that and I kind of got a glimpse of the behind the scenes of that.”

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Kolb has been the general manager of the Liberty since 2019, prior to which he worked in the WNBA league office, most recently as the Director of Basketball Strategy and Analytics.

“Look what we’ve done from last year to this year,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello told The Next of Kolb. “And look what kind of players we brought in. This is not easy. Players that […] could go elsewhere and maybe be the star for that team. But they came here to sacrifice and to do that, and to put it under a salary cap is not easy. I think he’s done a fantastic job. He’s very thorough. He knows the CBA better than anyone I’ve ever spoken to. And you know, putting all the numbers together and making it work. He deserves it because it’s hard to get players like this to come to one team and they did.” 

The Liberty open the playoffs with a first round matchup against the Washington Mystics at Barclays Center on Friday at 7:30 PM ET.

Jackie Powell contributed reporting to this story.

Written by Cameron Ruby

Cameron Ruby has been a contributing writer for The Next since April 2023. She is a Bay Area native currently living in Los Angeles.

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