Liberty eager to run it back in 2024
Stewart and Jones likely to return for another shot at title
Still desperately seeking their first WNBA title, the New York Liberty know the 2023 Finals got away from them, watching helplessly as the Las Vegas Aces celebrated their second straight championship at Downtown’s Barclays Center last week.
“It’s still a little hard. I suppose it stings a lot,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello ceded after last Wednesday’s Game 4 loss on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. “We grew a lot as a team and we’ll evaluate as we move forward.
“The more time we spend together, the more chemistry we get and more feel for each other,” she added. “We’ll have the offseason to prepare and we’ll review this first, and we’ll worry about next season then.”
Then is now, according to New York general manager Jonathan Kolb, who has already intimated that reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart will be back in the mix in 2024 as a core player, or what is most commonly referred to as a franchise tag.
Stewart, who set the league’s all-time single-season scoring record, put up at least 40 points four times and grabbed her second MVP in her first year here in Brooklyn, will not get to unrestricted free agency.
“It’s my first time being cored. Not surprising,” Stewart said in the aftermath of her first Finals loss in three tries. “I’m excited for what we’re doing here in New York and with the Liberty. … I’m looking forward to it for many years to come.”
Stewart came here in the offseason with fellow free agent Courtney Vandersloot.
Kolb had already landed 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones from Connecticut in a three-team swap with Dallas, giving the Liberty instant credibility as a title contender.
Dubbed one of the league’s “Super Teams”, along with Vegas, the Liberty posted the most wins in franchise history, got through two rounds of playoffs with one loss and dropped Game 4 by a single point, leaving them just shy of a fifth and decisive game in Sin City last Friday.
“We just wanted to keep fighting, knowing we had each other’s back,” Stewart said after suffering through a 3-of-17 shooting effort in Game 4. “This is the Finals. Making sure that we did whatever we could to force a Game 5, but it didn’t happen.”
Vandersloot, who missed an 18-footer from the corner just before the final buzzer that sank the hearts of the nearly 17,000 Brooklyn basketball fanatics at Barclays, won the 2021 WNBA title with Chicago.
She also intends to be back for another run at New York’s first crown.
“Obviously, we’re proud that we had an opportunity to play for a championship,” said Vandersloot, who led the league with 8.1 assists per game in her debut season here.
“It didn’t go our way,” she added. “We’re trying to build a championship team. It’s a learning experience. We can only get better from here and try to do it next year.”
Jones will be a free agent, but has already indicated that she has no desire to stray from a roster that also includes All-Star talents like Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, both of whom will be back in ’24.
Kolb readily agrees, knowing the double-double machine was the Liberty’s best player throughout the playoffs while Stewart struggled with her shooting touch, making just 38 percent of her attempts from the field.
“(Jones is) a player that we definitely want to retain,” he said “And we’ll continue those talks into the offseason.”
Vandersloot, Ionescu and reserve forward Kayla Thornton are under contract for next year.
That leaves Kolb to determine which missing parts will push the Liberty past the Aces, who became the league’s first repeat champions since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks.
New York also set attendance records at Barclays throughout the campaign, drawing over 11,000 on several occasions during the regular season and a whopping 17,143 for Game 3 of the Finals, the largest crowd ever to witness a WNBA game.
It was exactly the type of buzz-worthy campaign the Liberty were looking for when they finished their offseason haul last winter.
“First and foremost thank you,” Vandersloot said to the fans. “I hope they know that we gave it our all. We enjoyed playing in front of them and it meant a lot that they showed up when we needed them.”
Now that the Liberty are established as a premium ticket in Brooklyn, the only thing left for them to do is provide this borough with its first championship parade since the Dodgers finally bested the hated Yankees in the 1955 World Series.
Until then, however, it’s back to “Wait ’til next year” for these title-hungry ladies.
“This isn’t the goal that we had at the start of the season. We didn’t want to just get to the Finals,” Stewart insisted.
“We weren’t content with being one game away from winning the whole thing. But we wanted to win, and really just building off of that and not forgetting what it feels like to be here.”
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