It's not difficult for Tina Charles to turn the page on the Liberty's past two playoff-less seasons. She's surrounded by a completely new set of faces.
"Only looking forward," said Charles, the team's leading scorer (17.4) and rebounder (9.4) last season. "This is a new identity for us. A whole different team."
That was by design. The Liberty went into this past offseason looking to rebuild after consecutive fifth-place finishes in the WNBA's Eastern Conference. The team traded for two first-round draft picks, dealt Cappie Pondexter to Chicago for the younger Epiphanny Prince and bolstered the roster by signing guards Tanisha Wright and Candice Wiggins.
The new-look Liberty opens its season at 7:30 Friday night against the Atlanta Dream at Madison Square Garden.
"We're trying to build a team for a couple of reasons," said coach Bill Laimbeer, who is entering his third year after being let go and then rehired during the offseason. "One, our main horse, Tina Charles, is 27 years old. She's going to be around for a long time and we wanted to surround her with players that will grow with her. Same deal with Epiphanny Prince. She's also 27.
"But also, for the fans. We want the fans to grow with some of these young players."
Prince will miss the first month of the season. The guard, who averaged 15 points per game for Chicago last year, is competing for the Russian national team, which is trying to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Getting younger was a large part of the plan. Rookie Brittany Boyd, a 5-9 point guard from the University of California who was selected by the Liberty with the ninth pick in the draft, still is getting acclimated to WNBA size and her jumper still is raw, but she'll provide an "instant spark," Laimbeer said. "She can move the ball up the floor 1,000 miles an hour."
Said Boyd: "It helps having really good vets around like Tanisha and Swin [Cash]. Kind of learn to pick things up through them."
Kiah Stokes, selected 11th, set a UConn record by blocking 147 shots last season. But at Wednesday's practice at the MSG Training Center, the 6-3 center worked on her mid-range jumper. "They want me to be a big scorer, which is definitely new to me," Stokes said. "That's part of the adjustment. Staying defensive-minded, but also trying to be an offensive threat. Right now, it's a lot of just getting to know each other as players."
Stokes will be thrust into the starting lineup against Atlanta.
Said Charles: "Last year, I want to say we did pretty well against Atlanta [they were 3-1]. But again, we have a whole new team now. All we can do is take it one game at a time."