Liberty's superteam has championship expectations heading into season
The constellation of stars becomes visible Friday night in Washington. What a sight it should be.
Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones are the Liberty’s new stars, the first two through free agency and the latter via a trade. The returning stars, Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, also look ready to shine. Besides those five, there’s plenty of role-playing talent.
This is what a superteam looks like.
“It’s a collection of players that I don’t think [has] been put together before,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said.
The Liberty tip off season No. 27 against the Mystics in pursuit of WNBA championship No. 1.
Superteams still come with no guarantees. Ask the Nets. But this superteam does come with one.
The Liberty are expected to contend in the end with the defending champ Las Vegas Aces to be the best, but it’s guaranteed that they’re going to have to overcome everyone else’s best to get there.
“We are the hunted,” coach Sandy Brondello said.
Stewart is in agreement.
“Coming to this market, you already know you have a huge target on your back,” Stewart said. “But now because everyone’s talking about all these narratives and the biggest free agency and whatever, people want to beat us the moment we walk in the gym.
“And [it’s] kind of embracing that and taking that forward and realizing that we’re going to use this to our benefit. We have a very talented roster, and now it’s just about how we can play together. And with the facilities and the staff and everyone around us, everyone wants to be great.
“So when you’re surrounded by greatness, it’s a lot easier for you to be like, ‘All right, I’m going to do my best today.’ ”
Stewart personifies greatness.
The 6-4 forward made the WNBA’s W25 list in 2021 as one of the league’s all-time top 25 players.
She’s a four-time All-Star, one-time MVP and two-time Finals MVP who averaged 20.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 37.9% shooting on threes over six seasons with the Seattle Storm. She won the scoring title last season, averaging 21.8 points.
Jones was the 2021 MVP. The 6-6 forward averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds and had a league-leading defensive rating in 2022 when she made her fourth All-Star team in six years with the Connecticut Sun.
Vandersloot made four All-Star teams in 12 years with the Chicago Sky. The 5-8 point guard stands third on the WNBA career assists list.
“ . . . We’re bringing in one of the greatest point guards of all time, so it can take that ballhandling pressure off of [Ionescu],” Brondello said. “Of course, they’re going to share the load.”
Ionescu, the 5-11 top overall pick from 2020, delivered 17.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists and became an All-Star last season.
“Now having [a healthy] offseason, she’s just expanded her game,” Brondello said. “ . . . She’s a shot maker.”
Laney brought 16.8 points in her 2021 All-Star season. The 6-foot guard/forward missed much of 2022 due to knee surgery.
Marine Johannes is due to return after her French team finishes postseason play. The 5-10 guard can shoot threes and her passing is eye-catching.
“Marine’s a key piece of this puzzle,” Brondello said. “I think you saw the unique flair and style of game she played last year really complements the way we want to play.”
Veteran 6-5 center Stef Dolson is also back. So is the unique 23-year-old center with the nice outside touch, 6-11 Han Xu.
Newcomer Kayla Thornton is an experienced 6-1 forward who brings defense and intensity.
Then there’s Nyara Sabally. The athletic 6-5 forward was a 2022 first-round pick, but she sat out last season following a knee operation. Assistant coach Roneeka Hodges said Sabally “doesn’t play like a rookie.”
The Liberty are preaching a “process” approach geared toward daily improvement so they can take a shot at the goal.
“We want to win,” Brondello said. “We’ve got all these great players. Winning a championship, that’s the ultimate goal.”