New All-Star players make Liberty a favorite to win WNBA title
The expectations for the superteam understandably are supersized these days.
The Liberty essentially have put together an All-Star team to send out on the court for a season that tips off May 19 at Washington. It’s a superteam that formed with the offseason signings of Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot and the trade for Jonquel Jones — all four-time WNBA All-Stars.
They join 2022 All-Star Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney and a deep pool behind them filled with talented newcomers and holdovers.
So there are championship ring-sized expectations. The Liberty are one of the perceived favorites to win the title along with defending champ Las Vegas.
The Liberty have never claimed the championship in 26 seasons of basketball. But they are wrapping their arms around the expectations, not shrinking from them.
“To have expectations means we’ve earned them, right?” general manager Jonathan Kolb said Monday during the Liberty’s Media Day gathering at Barclays Center. “That’s from this offseason, and we embrace those expectations.
“But we know what comes with them. That’s a day-by-day process to get better. Every single player, including Stewie, wants to get better every single day . . . And so that’s what this is really about. And then from that, I believe good things will follow. The success will come as long as we’re being really detailed in our process.
“And so, yeah, look, I think at the end of the day, of course our goal is to be the last team standing. And we believe we have a process in place to lead us in that direction.”
The Liberty last reached the title round in 2002, when they made it for the fourth time in their first six seasons. They’re coming off five straight losing seasons, including their 16-20 run in 2022. Their first-round exit capped Sandy Brondello’s first year as coach.
“We don’t win championships in preseason,” Brondello said. “We don’t win them at the start of the season. We win them at the end.
“So it’s win the day. We have to come to work and get better today. And that’s building the foundation in the right way, not missing steps. That’s when it really comes back to haunt you.”
That was the theme of the day — the process.
Stewart knows the payoff. The 6-4 forward from upstate Cicero won two titles playing for Seattle after being on four NCAA title teams at UConn.
“When you look at our overall goal for the year, it’s to win a championship,” Stewart said. “That being said, it’s not going to happen today, tomorrow, the next couple of weeks.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to create a standard and strive for excellence, and that’s what’s going to help us get to that point.”
Stewart knows from striving for excellence, too. The 2018 regular-season MVP and two-time Finals MVP averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds across six seasons with the Storm. That included a scoring crown in 2022, when she averaged 21.8 points.
Vandersloot, who’s day-to-day after sustaining a hit to her face in practice last Monday, has led the league in average assists six times. The 5-8 point guard won a championship in 2021 with Chicago.
That was the year Jones claimed the MVP award with Connecticut.
This was the year the 6-6 forward wanted to be traded to the Liberty.
“Just being around the city, I think I feel the energy of the people wanting to get behind this team, being excited for the season,” Jones said. “I just know that they’re going to show up and be loud for us.”