Will the 2023 Liberty Live Up to the Hype?


For the first time in a long time, the New York Liberty are title contenders.  

When you bring in two former MVPs and one of the greatest point guards in the history of the league, those are your expectations.

This offseason saw the addition of Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, and Courtney Vandersloot to a team that finished seventh in the league last season. Second-year head coach Sandy Brondello will have a lot to figure out as the Seafoam and Copper start their quest for the first title in franchise history.

With so much newness, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team. Here are five key questions for the 2023 New York Liberty:

 1. Multiple stars. One ball. How is that going to work?

This roster features three players that led their respective teams in usage rate last season (Stewart, Jones, and recently-extended Sabrina Ionescu). They’ll also need to share the ball with Vandersloot, who was second in the WNBA in assists last season. Betnijah Laney, who has been a star for the Liberty in recent years, will be in the mix, too. Each player will need to adjust, and likely sacrifice, in order for this to work. 

Even so, when you gather this level of star power on one team, good things usually happen.  

“It’s a really special opportunity,” said Stewart in her February introductory press conference, “because things like this don’t happen often, where you have so much talent and so many amazing players. The selflessness of all of us is what’s going to help us succeed.” 

 2. Can they handle the pressure?

ESPN, CBS and the WNBA website each listed the Liberty second in their preseason power rankings, trailing only the defending-champion Las Vegas Aces. The franchise has never won a championship. They haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2016. 

The team does have some championship experience (Brondello, Stewart, Vandersloot), but the pressure will be on to win one in New York. Let’s see how they handle those expectations.  

 3. Can they stay healthy? 

Putting together an All-Star roster is great, but it won’t mean much if they can’t all be on the floor together.  

Ionescu dealt with nagging injuries over the past two seasons. Laney missed significant time last year. The team also saw multiple role players missing games due to injury. Brondello can’t fully assess what she has unless everyone is playing.  

Ionescu talked last week about the benefits of starting this season fully healthy. 

“It’s been rewarding already, just being able to be in training camp from Day One to now and continuing to work on my game and be my best self for this team, not having to deal with that obstacle.”

4. What can we expect from the bench? 

To make room for the superstars, New York had to sacrifice some of their bench. Rebecca Allen, Sami Whitcomb, Crystal Dangerfield, Michaela Onyenwere and DiDi Richards were all important pieces last season, and none of them are on the team anymore. They added Kayla Thornton in the three-team trade for Jones. She’ll certainly help, but she won’t replicate the production from those five on her own. 

Stef Dolson will now come off the bench. She can also play alongside Stewart or Jones since they can all space the floor and shoot from long-range. Han Xu showed some special moments last year, too. 

The Liberty re-signed Marine Johannes, who proved her value as a backup guard for the team. They’re also getting Jocelyn Willoughby and Nyara Sabally back, who each missed time last year due to injury.  

 5. Can this team bring change to the league? 

Prominent members of this organization have been leading the charge for improvements in the WNBA. Team owners Clara Wu Tsai and Joe Tsai, along with Stewart and many other players and coaches, have openly advocated for chartered flights. This offseason, the league expanded the use of chartered flights for all postseason games, the Commissioner’s Cup championship game, and select regular-season games in which a team is playing two nights in a row in two different cities.  

It’s a good start, but the league still has a long way to go. Over the past couple of years, the WNBA has seen discussions about salary increases, protections and benefits for pregnant players, expanded rosters and league expansion. 

Clearly, the Liberty have influential people with powerful voices in their building. When you combine that with the bright lights of New York, any advocacy could go a long way in creating change. 

The season starts Friday night at 7pm ET, when the Liberty visit the Washington Mystics.

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