May 14, 2024 

Liberty finalize 2024 roster for now

Why the Liberty might be able add a 12th player when it matters most

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — On Saturday afternoon, the Liberty were in preparation mode for their Tuesday night home opener in Washington against the Mystics. The page had been turned, and training camp was over. When the team huddled up to conclude practice, it was clear that a new phase of the 2024 season was about to begin. 

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Head coach Sandy Brondello looked around the team huddle at the center of the Barclays Center’s practice courts and pointed out that only 11 remained. Five WNBA novices had been waived the previous day. 

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The Liberty will rock an 11-player roster heading into the 2024 regular season, for now. More on that shortly. On that Saturday, Croatian guard Ivana Dojkić and German wing Leonie Fiebich partook in their first official New York Liberty practice. 

While Dojkić played in the Liberty’s second preseason game just two days earlier in Connecticut, all she had with her new team was a morning shootaround. Dojkić arrived on Tuesday, got her physicals done and then met her teammates and coaches in Uncasville. She scored 8 points on 3-5 shooting in 8 minutes of play on Thursday night in the Liberty’s 82-79 win over the Sun. 

Fiebich landed in New York on Thursday night, completed her medical exams on Friday and jumped right into practice on Saturday morning. “I got kind of thrown into the cold water, but it was fun,” Fiebich told reporters about her first New York Liberty practice. 

Fiebich, Dojkić and Kennedy Burke — New York’s retooled bench — were finally all together, accounted for and practicing. While Fiebich and Dojkić were late arrivals, Burke rested for most of training camp to prevent injury and fatigue following her long season playing in the French league. 

Where was first round draft pick Marquesha Davis on that Saturday? She was missing in Brooklyn but not necessarily missing in action. The rookie was at her college commencement ceremony from the University of Mississippi. While other teams around the WNBA created small graduation celebrations for their rookies who couldn’t leave their new teams to graduate in person, the Liberty allowed Davis to head back to Mississippi to spend that time with her family and celebrate being a first-generation college graduate. 

Who took Davis’ place in the meantime? Jaylyn Sherrod, the undrafted and athletic point guard from Colorado who made a strong first impression. When the Liberty’s starters came out looking quite flat in their first preseason game in Chicago on Tuesday, May 7, Sherrod’s 10 minutes of play coming off the bench served as one of the only bright spots that came out of New York’s first preseason action. Following that abysmal 101-53 preseason loss in Chicago, Brondello explained postgame that Sherrod was the only player suited up ready to play that night who could actually guard and put pressure on speedy Sky point guard Dana Evans. She had notched two steals and four points in her pro debut. 

Sherrod’s impact didn’t stop in Chicago. She played 14 minutes in Conneticut, more than any Liberty rookie that evening. She had a pair of steals once again along with eight points on 2-5 shooting and two more assists and two rebounds. But, what stood out most was her impact in the final 45 seconds of regulation. 

New York was down just a point and Sherrod was chasing Sun sharp-shooter Rachel Banham around. When Sun forward Queen Egbo fumbled the shovel pass to Banham, the ball went loose and Sherrod went off to the races, grabbing the ball with no one ahead of her. The Liberty took the lead for good on her open layup. 

“She’s just a game changer like that,” Brondello said about Sherrod postgame while in Connecticut.  “I think just her athleticism. I know Banham had a tough three on her, but credit to her. She’s just resilient and she just uses her speed and got a really big turnover for us to help us win the game.” 

Besides Sherrod’s speed, athleticism and defensive instincts, what was eye opening about the undrafted rookie was her poise and approach to training camp. She understood that making mistakes was par for the course during her first pro experiences. “Everybody makes a mistake on their jobs, it’s not like you just automatically get fired,” she told NetsDaily’s Lucas Kaplan. 

That outlook was noticeable by reigning MVP Breanna Stewart. “I think she came in and she knew exactly what she needed to do,” Stewart told The Next about Sherrod. “She needed to be a disrupter defensively, and someone to facilitate offensively, and she took a lot of pride in that and made sure that she asked questions, did as much as she could to make her mark known.”

And while the 5’7 point guard stood out and surprised many in Liberty training camp, it still wasn’t enough to earn a full time roster spot for now. 

Jaylyn Sherrod points
New York Liberty guard Jaylyn Sherrod (0) during the WNBA preseason game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 09, 2024. (Photo Credit: Chris Poss)

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How the Liberty have handled the limitations of the salary cap

When the news of the Liberty’s final cuts broke which included Sherrod and 17th overall pick Esmery Martinez, there were outcries of disappointment especially when it came to Sherrod. 

A question that the Liberty face following the results of last season are the team’s toughness and consistency defensively. Sherrod plugged that hole during moments throughout the preseason. So why can’t she make the team?

General manager Jonathan Kolb’s ability to re-sign his frontcourt in Stewart and Jonquel Jones for prices that met their desires factors into why the Liberty can only roster 11 players at the moment. The WNBA has a hard salary cap and as of now, New York has approximately $30,521 left. 

Also, ever since Marquesha Davis became the Liberty’s top draft target during the offseason, there was an expectation that she would be making the roster. New York imagines a Kahleah Copper-esque type ceiling for Davis and she has the natural athleticism and size at 6’0 to get there. Davis, who will earn $70,344 during her rookie season, was the final player to make the cut for now. 

Why for now? The Liberty plan to use that final $30,521 wisely. New York intends to — if they can stay healthy and don’t need to sign any significant hardship contracts — use that final $30K on a 12th player. The contract will be prorated and will most likely take effect following the Olympic break. While New York had a strong inkling that Davis was making the final roster, training camp served multiple purposes: 1) it was to make sure the Liberty’s returners were pushed and challenged and 2) it was an audition for that final pre-trade deadline (Aug 20) spot, that barring no significant injuries, the Liberty are going to look to fill. 

A prorated contract was something that New York also implemented in 2022 with Crystal Dangerfield and with Marine Johannés in that same year. On July 3, 2022, since enough of the season went by, the Liberty converted Dangerfield’s hardship contract to a rest of the season contract where she earned $25,745 during the final two months of the season.

As it stands, there are at least two names that New York is considering that could fill that final spot. One is Sherrod because of the impression she made throughout the past couple of weeks in camp and the other is Johannés, whose interest the Liberty will gauge following the Paris Olympics. 

While previously the thought was that Johannés wouldn’t have an opportunity to return this season due to prioritization rules, the WNBA realized an error they made when it came to how they were counting years of service. According to the collective bargaining agreement, players don’t get a year of service when they withhold playing services “for more than 21 days after the season begins.” Johannés arrived in New York during the later half of July in 2019 following her participation in EuroBasket. Knocking off that year alone puts her below three years of service.

While the Liberty could have an opportunity to add another player to their roster for the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs, it’s worth mentioning how much the franchise has felt an emotional strain when it comes to having to cut players, especially players that prove they belong in the league. 

While cutting Sherrod didn’t create the pain and agony that waiving DiDi Richards a year ago did for the Liberty, New York’s front office still feels frustrated that they constantly have to choose between contending and meaningfully developing players. Teams in other professional leagues across America have more flexibility to do both and create a copious farm system that can be utilized when unpredictable injuries do occur.

The Liberty have tried some creative workarounds to address the WNBA’s stubbornness to expand rosters and specifically add developmental spots on rosters. They began drafting and or trading and stashing international players in 2021. French point guard Marine Fauthoux was selected 29th overall three years ago. The rights of Spanish forward Raquel Carrera were acquired when New York traded AD Durr in 2022. And current Liberty wing Fiebich was acquired in the four team trade that sent Michaela Onyenwere over to the Phoenix Mercury in 2023.  

New York hasn’t only stashed international players. Since 2023 they’ve stashed domestic college prospects as well. The Liberty’s first domestic draft and stash was 3-and-D wing and USC alumna Okako Adika who was waived following the Liberty’s final preseason game. Adika arrived in New York in January and was able to get a head start by preparing for training camp with the Liberty’s coaches and player development specialists. The same will be in store for 2024 third round pick Kaitlyn Davis, another USC grad. Davis will play in Mexico for a three month season first and then will report to Brooklyn in January of 2025. 

Stephanie Mawuli drives on Rachel Banham.
New York Liberty forward Stephanie Mawuli (33) drives to the basket as Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham (1) defends during the WNBA preseason game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 09, 2024. (Photo Credit: Chris Poss)

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Could Adika return to that 2025 training camp alongside Davis? It’s possible. Just look at Japanese national team mainstay Stephanie Mawuli who was in her second year of New York Liberty training camp. Mawuli told The Next that she felt much more comfortable this year in training camp compared to last when she was learning Brondello’s system for the first time. Mawuli decided to play in Spain during the WNBA offseason for the club the Estudiantes. There was a reason for this. She wants to make a WNBA roster one day. 

“That’s why I played in Spain this year,” she said. “If you play in only Japan, no one can see you play.”

Mawuli didn’t make the final roster this year, and she was noticeably disappointed about it.  Maybe the third time’s the charm? She’ll compete in the Paris Olympics later this summer and the Liberty will most likely be watching. They always do. 

New York has created its own makeshift farm system with players that the Liberty closely monitor around the world. They have used the past two training camps to evaluate and develop talent in ways that the league doesn’t always make easy. Gone are the days when New York would have to sign players off the street. While the WNBA’s financial model continues to give team basketball operations departments lemons, the Liberty have made some lemonade.

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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