After New York Liberty fall short in WNBA Finals, what changes are in store?

NEW YORK — In early July, Teresa Weatherspoon quietly entered the New York Liberty’s locker room following a regular-season victory. Weatherspoon, a star player on the last New York team to reach the WNBA Finals in 2002, caught the attention of coach Sandy Brondello, who was delivering a postgame speech. After Brondello finished, she gave Weatherspoon the opportunity to speak.

“I believe we have something special here,” Weatherspoon told the Liberty. “We have a talented group of players who can achieve great things. If you want it, you can bring home that championship ring. Go chase it.”

The Liberty pursued their goal relentlessly throughout the season and showed promise in fulfilling Weatherspoon’s motivating words. However, when they faced the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Finals three months later, the Liberty seemed lost on the court, lacking conviction and unsure of what to do next.

“They’re playing with desire, and we’re playing like we’re afraid to be in the finals,” star center Jonquel Jones expressed to her teammates after suffering two decisive losses.

Perhaps it was nerves or a lack of intensity and urgency, but the Liberty ultimately fell short and were eliminated in four games. As they enter the offseason, their pursuit of the elusive championship continues. The Liberty have now played in five WNBA Finals but have yet to secure the title.

Reflecting on the Liberty’s growth during the regular season, Weatherspoon noted that the team was coming together. “Ring me. Ring me,” she exclaimed to conclude her inspirational speech in July. Yet, despite their progress, the Liberty remain without any championship jewelry. Their quest to dethrone the Aces will begin again, but significant changes are expected.

First and foremost, the status of Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, both unrestricted free agents, will be a top priority for general manager Jonathan Kolb. Retaining these two exceptional players, who have garnered numerous accolades, will be crucial.

Heading into the finals, Jones expressed that she hadn’t given much thought to her long-term future, while Stewart commented that she had not considered free agency extensively. However, she hinted that the Liberty would likely exercise the core designation on her, ensuring she remains with the team.

“I am content in New York,” Stewart affirmed.

If one or both of these stars are not retained, significant changes will inevitably occur within the Liberty. With Betnijah Laney and Kayla Thornton signing multi-year extensions during the latter stages of the season, it is evident that New York’s front office is invested in building around their key players. Courtney Vandersloot still has one year remaining on her contract, and Sabrina Ionescu, despite a slight dip in performance during her first extended postseason run, is signed through the 2025-26 season.

Of course, there is always the possibility of a substantial trade. Offseasons are unpredictable in that regard. While the Aces are confident and possess immense talent as they aim for a third consecutive championship in the upcoming season, Kolb has previously demonstrated his ability to bring in new talent. It wouldn’t be surprising if there are a few names on an index card tucked away in his desk drawer that he hopes to bring to New York.

After games 2 and 4, Brondello expressed her disappointment in the team’s failure to showcase their full potential. As the series returned to New York after suffering 17- and 28-point losses, Vandersloot acknowledged, “We lacked that killer mindset, and that’s what it will take to succeed.”


‘This one’s sweeter’: Las Vegas Aces capture second straight WNBA championship

Identifying and developing a “killer mindset” through free agency or trades is no simple task. It will be a challenging process to analyze the finals and understand why the Liberty didn’t display more fight in Las Vegas. Why did they struggle to secure victory despite halftime and third-quarter leads? It seems the team’s potential lies not in filling roster holes but in the hope that another year of continuity, experience, and unity will yield different results next season.

Potential changes may occur primarily within New York’s bench. Fan favorite Marine Johannès undoubtedly proved to be one of the most captivating players on the Liberty roster, exhibiting fearlessness and unconventional shots throughout the season. However, due to the prioritization rules dictated by the WNBA which favor international commitments, it is possible that Johannès may miss the entire 2024 WNBA season to prepare for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

She may face suspension as a result.

“It’s complicated at the moment,” Johannès stated during the finals. “The Olympics are an incredible opportunity in one’s life, especially with it being held in Paris. I think about my family, and I know they would be thrilled for me.”

She also confirmed that Kolb is aware of and supports her desire to play in Paris.

Veteran center Stefanie Dolson is an unrestricted free agent, while reserve guard Jocelyn Willoughby is a restricted free agent. Coming into this season, Kolb heralded the Liberty’s depth. Even though Brondello sparingly utilized bench players during the playoffs, it is unlikely that the philosophy of building a strong roster will change, even if some modifications to the cast are made. The Aces, despite rarely relying on the back end of their roster during the regular season, exemplified the significance of having capable players ready to step in when called upon during their finals victory.

What other changes await the Liberty?

“It’s difficult to answer these questions right now,” Vandersloot confessed on Wednesday night. “We are all incredibly disappointed, and emotions are running high.”

Perhaps an offseason of reflection on their finals loss will ignite a renewed sense of determination among the team next season. The Liberty set a franchise record with 32 wins, but they may prioritize attaining the top seed in the playoffs rather than settling for the second seed as they did this season, recognizing the challenges of two opening road finals games. As multiple Aces players discussed throughout the series, increased time together may foster stronger bonds, resulting in more enjoyment, victories, and championships for the Liberty. It’s worth noting that the Aces themselves experienced defeat in the 2020 finals and 2021 semifinals before winning back-to-back titles.

These questions, however, remain unanswered and uncertainties linger in the wake of a devastating loss. Outside the Liberty’s locker room on Wednesday night, consolatory hugs were shared between players, staff, and even arena security guards.

Meanwhile, across Barclays Center on the Liberty’s practice court, the Aces reveled in their victory, posing for pictures, dancing, and celebrating with champagne. New York enters the offseason still hoping to one day revel in similar jubilation.

(Photo, from left, of Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney, Breanna Stewart, and Sabrina Ionescu: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)


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