Brooklyn Boro

Liberty begin quest for elusive title

New York to visit Washington for Friday's season opener

May 18, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The preseason hype is over.

Now, the New York Liberty have to go out and prove they are capable of seriously pursuing the franchise’s first-ever WNBA title Friday night in Washington, D.C.

And perhaps even winning it.

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“We don’t win championships in preseason, we don’t win them at the start of the season. We win them at the end,” New York second-year head coach Sandy Brondello insisted two weeks ago when this revamped, reshaped, star-studded roster opened training camp in Downtown Brooklyn.

Well, the time has come for the Liberty, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances and hasty exits, to live up to an offseason of grand expectations.

New York general manager Jonathan Kolb spent the winter bringing in the likes of two-time WNBA champions and Finals Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart, 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot, the league’s all-time leader in assists.

That trio, combined with mainstay All-Stars like Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, have the Liberty listed alongside defending WNBA champion Las Vegas as the teams to beat this year.

“I feel the energy of the people getting behind this team,” noted Jones, who made the initial offseason splash after arriving here via a three-team trade from Connecticut, where she twice reached and lost in the WNBA Finals, including last year.

Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot were two of the three superstars New York acquired this offseason to chase their first-ever WNBA title. AP Photo by Jessie Alcheh

Jones and the Liberty, who will take on the Mystics in our nation’s capital at 7 p.m. Friday (NBA TV), will have a target on their backs for the first time in many a season.

Washington, which was eliminated by Stewart’s Seattle squad in the first round of last season’s playoffs, will be led by veteran guard Elena Delle Donne.

“I think there’s some people that would think, ‘Just fast-forward to the end of the season and let (New York and Las Vegas) compete for the championship,’” the former two-time MVP said when asked about preseason expectations. “But … we’re excited to make our mark.”

New York hasn’t advanced as far as the Eastern Conference finals since 2015, and has waited since 2002 just to get a whiff of the WNBA Finals.

Brondello, who guided the Phoenix Mercury to the 2014 title, knows the difference between press clippings and bathing in confetti with her players after securing a crown in this league.

“There’s a fine line. When you look at our overall goals for the year, we want to win a championship,” she said. “That’s not going to happen today, tomorrow or over the next couple of weeks. What’s going to happen is we’re trying to build a standard.”

While the foundation is in place for a successful campaign, the Liberty won’t just rely on their All-Star power to raise the WNBA championship trophy this fall.

New additions like forward Kayla Thornton and 2022 first-round pick Nyara Sabally will team with returning veterans Han Xu, Jocelyn Willoughby, Stefanie Dotson and Marine Johannes to form one of the league’s deepest and most formidable rosters.

Kolb, an early favorite for WNBA Executive of the Year honors, hasn’t shied away from what the oddsmakers and prognosticators have been saying.

“We know what comes with (expectations),” he noted. “That’s a day-by-day process. … The success will come as long as we’re being detailed in our process. Our goal is to be the last team standing.”

Goal No. 1, however, is to beat the Mystics Friday before returning to Barclays Center for Sunday afternoon’s home opener vs. Indiana.

Former second-round pick DiDi Richards was one of four players the Liberty cut ahead of Friday’s season opener vs. the Mystics. AP Photo by Tony Gutierrez

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Kolb and Brondello had to make some adjustments to the roster ahead of Friday’s opener to select the dozen players that will begin this 40-game regular-season journey toward a postseason berth and, maybe even a parade along Flatbush Avenue. On Wednesday, New York announced that fan favorite DiDi Richards, Morgan Green, Sika Kone and Stephanie Mawuli didn’t make the cut. Richards, selected in the second round by New York in 2021, was a defensive stalwart for the Liberty, but only appeared in 14 games a season ago due to a hamstring injury. … After hosting the Fever on Sunday, New York will welcome Jones’ former team, Connecticut, to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush on May 27.

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