March 15, 2024 

New York Liberty acquire rights to Rebekah Gardner from Chicago

New York’s low-risk trade could yield a higher reward and less worry about the in upcoming expansion draft

On Thursday afternoon, the New York Liberty made a move that won’t help the franchise in 2024 but ought to in 2025. Following a report from Khristina Williams—which we confirmed at The Next—the Liberty acquired the rights of wing Rebekah Gardner from the Chicago Sky in exchange for both New York’s 2025 and 2026 second-round picks.

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Gardner, a player with two years of WNBA service, made her W debut in 2022 after playing around a decade professionally overseas for teams in Spain, Israel and Turkey. Former Sky GM and head coach James Wade signed the 31-year-old rookie to play behind starting wing Kahleah Copper and shore up the Sky’s bench depth.

Gardner’s veteran experience and skill earned her not only a spot on the 2022 WNBA All-Rookie team but also gave Gardner a reputation across the WNBA as a highly dependable, switchable, athletic two-way wing who could slash, space the floor, and play suffocating defense. Her breakout commenced against the Liberty on May 11 in her first-ever WNBA game, scoring 14 points off the bench. Months later, Gardner received praise for how she defended in the Liberty’s 2022 first-round playoff series against the Sky.

Since that breakout year, Gardner has struggled to stay healthy. She broke her left foot three games into last season and missed the majority of the 2023 campaign. On January 17, the Sky extended a qualifying offer to Gardner, an offer she never signed. 

What followed was an explosive free agency period for Chicago. After failing to sign any top free agents, Copper requested a trade out of Chicago. Weeks later, the Chicago front office was asked about their plans to re-sign Gardner. Sky General Manager Jeff Pagliocca referred to Gardner as someone the organization has “a lot of respect for,” signaling that those conversations were ongoing.

However, just days after that press conference, Annie Costabile of The Chicago Sun-Times confirmed reports overseas that Gardner had ruptured her Achilles while playing for Spanish club Spar Girona. A torn Achilles requires around a year of recovery and rehabilitation.

But then, on Thursday afternoon, Costabile reported that Chicago was actually planning on moving Gardner regardless of the injury. The Next can confirm Costabile’s report while adding that Gardner was sought out by multiple WNBA teams prior to the injury.

Why were the Liberty in line to land her? That’s because New York views Gardner as a future asset, something that Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb explained in the team’s press release.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Rebekah to New York and support her recovery process,” he said. “She has shown tremendous perseverance throughout her career, and in tandem with our talented performance staff, we are confident she will be positioned to have the best opportunity at a full recovery as we target the 2025 season for her return.”

Rebekah Gardner shoots the basketball.
Rebekah Gardner (#35) shoots on May 19, 2023, at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next

To get Gardner’s rights, the Liberty had to part with two second-round picks that historically haven’t yielded contending teams a ton of return on their investment. In the past three WNBA drafts, the last few picks of the second round have included Alexis Morris, Kayana Traylor, Brea Beal, Kayla Jones, Aisha Sheppard, Jordan Lewis, N’dea Jones and Trinity Baptiste.

The odds of landing on talents like DiJonai Carrington (2021’s 20th overall pick) or Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu (2023’s 21st overall pick), two players that still remain in the WNBA, are low and will only get lower as expansion pushes back late second-round picks even further.

New York believes that getting Gardner at age 34 following a restructured Achilles provides more value than a pick that might not make it out of training camp. That’s a favorable opportunity cost.

The Liberty are also committed to making sure that Gardner has an opportunity to return to basketball as close to form as she can. A league source told The Next that Gardner underwent surgery and is now in New York. She will be in and out of Brooklyn during moments of the 2024 season when the Liberty and their performance staff will monitor and assist with her rehab. Not all WNBA franchises can offer that level of care to their players, especially players who aren’t officially yet under contract.

Acquiring Gardner also provides the Liberty with options especially as the league prepares for an expansion draft at the end of this calendar year. The Liberty hold the rights of a player that they believe can contribute in 2025 in the event that a more typical player who they don’t place on their protected list is selected by the Golden State expansion team. Gardner can serve as a replacement for that player selected by Golden State, and New York doesn’t have to turn to the open market unless they want to. In acquiring the rights to a player who can’t play in 2024, the Liberty have done their expansion draft work early.

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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