GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It’s become something of a tradition now, though perhaps it isn’t the most pleasant one. For two years in a row, Tina Charles and the Liberty have been ousted from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion. And for two years in a row, Charles stands in the team’s training facility and vows to go harder, do more, get them closer.
It’s difficult to believe that Charles, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States and four-time WNBA All Star, has another level. It’s also difficult to believe that the Liberty will have to rely on her more than it already has. But on Monday, at the team’s media day, it became abundantly clear that though they have what appears to be one of the deepest teams in the league, they have only one leader.
“Tina is the show right now — make no mistake about that,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. “She expressed at the end of last season and the beginning of this season . . . that she herself wants to be pushed and she expects everybody at this camp and everybody on the Liberty to work as hard as she is. And she’s our hardest worker out there, which is great for the coach because your best player is your hardest worker and makes everyone else conform.”
Swin Cash has retired, and Tanisha Wright is taking a year off from basketball, but other than that, the Liberty appears to have picked up where it left off. After their ouster in the second round of the playoffs last year — a one-game elimination against Phoenix — they return with high expectations and very stiff competition. Elena Della Donne, the 2015 WNBA MVP, was traded to Washington, putting the Mystics in the title conversation. Reigning league champion Los Angeles and league runner-up Minnesota, who battled in the WNBA finals, are again serious title contenders.
“We think we’re going to go 12 deep and every position will be covered,” Laimbeer said when asked how the Liberty will stack up. “We have a couple youngsters, but I think, overall, our depth and leadership . . . We’re going to try to wear teams down. We’re just going to bring wave after wave of quality players and expect our players to play as hard as they can any minute.”
Charles quickly quashed questions about other teams and turned her focus to the Liberty. She even seems to have recovered from last season’s postseason loss to Phoenix better than she did in 2015, when the Liberty lost to Indiana in the conference finals.
“You definitely think about the way things ended,” she said. “But I’m just moving past that. I’m focusing on the team that we have here . . . How can I make them better? Harping on the little things that we’re going to need at the end of the season.”
The biggest way, of course, is to do what she’s always done. With Cash and Wright gone, though, she just might have to do more of it.
“I have to be the presence out there, cheering everybody on, telling everybody to go hard,” she said. “The standard that I hold myself at, making sure I hold everybody else at that standard.”