2023 WNBA Free Agency: New York Liberty seek Breanna Stewart, Sloot

The New York Liberty have been thinking big ever since drafting Sabrina Ionescu No. 1 overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft. They knew they were getting a special player, even among No. 1 picks, in the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles. Ionescu is the piece they knew they needed to build around.

So they formed a big three by bringing in Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney and some people, like me, were high on the idea that that trio could lead a contender. And they did shock the Chicago Sky by taking a game in the first round of last year’s playoffs, but ultimately ended up with two first-round exits in the trio’s time together.

So the Liberty set their sights higher. Now they have Swish Appeal‘s No. 1 WNBA player Jonquel Jones, a considerable upgrade over Howard. And they didn’t have to give up Laney in the deal.

Jones and Ionescu finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in MVP voting last year, with Jones winning the award in 2021. Based the 2022 MVP results, they are now the third-best 1-2 punch in the league behind A’ja Wilson/ Kelsey Plum and Brittney Griner/Skylar Diggins-Smith, assuming Griner would have finished in the Top 8 in MVP voting (Diggins-Smith was sixth, Wilson was first, Plum was third).

But the Liberty aren’t done yet. And we all know why.


By the numbers*

Free agents (type) (2022 average salary)

  • Sami Whitcomb (unrestricted) ($150,350)
  • Han Xu (reserved) ($60,471)
  • Marine Johannès (reserved) ($40,713)

Total average salary of free agents: $251,534

Total team salary: $993,701

Cap space: $426,799

Analysis

The elephant in the room is that Breanna Stewart is likely seriously considering going to New York. Nobody can seem to figure out what the tweet below meant, but she met with the Liberty last offseason and is from Syracuse, New York.

There is also the news reported by Howard Megdal of The Next that the point guard with the highest assist average in WNBA history, Courtney Vandersloot, is also interested in the Liberty. To hear Megdal and Jackie Powell’s take on everything related to Liberty free agency, you can watch the video below:

Based on what Megdal and Powell have to say, it seems like this is one possible scenario for the final result of the Liberty’s offseason:

  • Breanna Stewart, starting PF ($234,936)
  • Jonquel Jones, starting C ($211,150)
  • Sabrina Ionescu, starting SG ($86,701)
  • Courtney Vandersloot, starting PG ($112,306)
  • Betnijah Laney, starting SF ($201,984)
  • Stefanie Dolson, second C ($160,000)
  • Marine Johannès, second PG/SG ($74,305)
  • Kayla Thornton, second SF/PF ($109,716)
  • Han Xu, third C ($74,305)
  • Michaela Onyenwere, third SF/PF $75,407
  • Jocelyn Willoughby, fourth SF/SG $79,690

Yes, Vandersloot would be grossly underpaid, but Megdal suggested that she might even accept less than $112,306 to create a super team and go all-in on winning a championship.

Powell says the team wants to bring back Johannès and Xu. They are also being grossly underpaid in this scenario, but as reserved players cannot negotiate with other teams.

I decided to leave DiDi Richards off, because I think Jocelyn Willoughby has more potential. But the Liberty could save some money by keeping Richards over Willoughby.

So that scenario is pretty simple. You sign superstars Stewart and Vandersloot in free agency, cut Richards and keep two promising young players in Johannès and Xu while letting go of an expensive 34-year-old in Sami Whitcomb.

But what if Vandersloot isn’t willing to sell her soul? It’s not like she has zero championships and she needs to become certified like Kevin Garnett. She’s already certified; she delivered a championship to the Chicago Sky and is forever a champion. There’s a big difference in desperation for a first championship and desperation for a second. Plus, what if Allie Quigley doesn’t retire and ends up somewhere other than New York. The married couple have made an effort to stay on the same team in the past. And then there’s the idea of ​​Vandersloot going home to Seattle.

So maybe the Liberty have to go after a different point guard; they’d have $112,306 (or less, depending on what Johannès and Xu get paid) to work with. Jordin Canada only got paid $98,000 last year, but she had a big year so she may be too expensive this offseason. Natisha Hiedeman may also be too expensive and isn’t a true point guard, though she filled in for an injured Jasmine Thomas last year in Connecticut. If only the Liberty could get Maite Cazorla (Atlanta, suspended-contract expired), whose point guard play at Oregon allowed Ionescu to play off-ball, which is exactly what the Liberty are looking for someone to do right now. But even then, while the chemistry would be there with Ionescu, the Liberty wouldn’t be able to trust someone with a career WNBA start to run the offense of a championship contender.

Now let’s say the Liberty don’t get Stewart, because it seems to be 50/50 right now between them and the Storm. They could pay Vandersloot a lot more or get the second-best point guard available in Erica Wheeler for around what Wheeler made last year ($185,400). Or maybe they look to Canada and then go for a splash signing of a frontcourt mate for Jones to replace what Stewart would have brought. The stretch 4 that could be available is Emma Meesseman. If this scenario plays out, they wouldn’t be as insanely loaded, but JJ, Ionescu, Laney and Meesseman is still pretty loaded.


*All salary numbers come from Her Hoop Stats

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