PG: Tanisha Wright/Brittany Boyd
SG: Epiphanny Prince/Candice Wiggins/Sugar Rodgers
SF: Essence Carson/Rebecca Allen
PF: Tina Charles/Swin Cash
C: Kiah Stokes/Carolyn Swords/Avery Warley-Talbert
Significant additions: If everything goes to plan, Prince, Wright, Boyd, Stokes, Allen, Wiggins and Swords. There’s been a lot of turnover in New York.
Significant losses: Cappie Pondexter, Plenette Pierson, Anna Cruz, Alex Montgomery, and any fans who can’t stomach giving money to an organisation run by Isiah Thomas.
It’s been a bizarre, tumultuous offseason in New York – and that’s before you even consider that they eventually turned over more than half the roster. First Bill Laimbeer was let go, then he was brought back again when they couldn’t come up with a preferable alternative. Then the roster moves started to happen, turning an aging, fraying roster into one that at least has a little youth and energy to take heart from. Then the Isiah Thomas story exploded, and became all anyone wanted to talk about in relation to the Liberty. The League are still assessing whether they’re going to allow Thomas to become part-owner of the franchise, but hopefully the team have been able to put all those distractions aside and prepare to actually play some basketball. For the rest of this piece at least, we’ll focus on their prospects on the court.
The first move they made was perhaps the most significant, shipping the face of the franchise Cappie Pondexter to Chicago in a straight-up trade for Epiphanny Prince. They’re somewhat similar players, perimeter scorers who like to have the ball in their hands, although Prince has never reached the heights that Cappie ascended to at her peak. But the primary effect of the trade is the clear statement that this is now Tina Charles’s team. Realistically that was already the case, but with Cappie gone Charles has to know that the buck now stops with her. She’s capable of carrying that load, and seemed to settle in as her first season in New York progressed last year. But she does still have a tendency to slip too far away from the basket and rely on her mid-range shot, which needs to be the secondary option after punishing teams inside, not the first choice.
Beyond Charles, there’s talent on this roster, but questions abound. Can the collection of backups, youngsters and retreads do a good enough job filling the post spot next to Charles? Is Essence Carson ever going to bounce back to anything like the player she once was? Between the swath of veteran combo-guards and rookie point guard Brittany Boyd, can they combine to run a cohesive offense? Are there enough players on the roster who can hit a shot to keep defenses away from swamping Charles in traffic? It’s a long list, and even Laimbeer probably isn’t too sure about the answers just yet.
Rookie post Kiah Stokes seems to have impressed in training camp and preseason, and will get her chance to help Charles out inside. Carolyn Swords was a reasonable backup before a serious knee injury in Chicago, and wasn’t in the league last year as a result. Avery Warley-Talbert is a vaguely serviceable backup, and Swin Cash is clinging on to her spot in this league by her last remaining fingernail. It’s not a threatening group, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. If they can get some decent defense from them and maybe a bucket or two just to make defenders pay some occasional attention, it’ll be enough. It’s just going to be another work in progress for a team that’s already going to be figuring out plenty of things on the fly.
With Pondexter gone, the Liberty also gave up last year’s surprise success story when they traded Anna Cruz to Minnesota (in the deal that allowed them to draft Stokes), so outside of Carson and backup guard Sugar Rodgers the perimeter is all new. Tanisha Wright decided not to retire after all, but left Seattle to come home to New York and join the Liberty. She’s a solid two-guard and smart defender who can help run an offense, although she’s consistently struggled with injuries in recent years. She tends to play through them, but they diminish her impact. Candice Wiggins was also signed as a free agent, another combo-guard to join the clan, and if she can stay healthy for more than five minutes she might be able to help. They’ve also got the speed and tenacity of rookie guard Boyd, and the length of young Aussie wing Rebecca Allen to throw into the mix. It’s an odd group where Boyd is the only recognised point guard, and everyone else is either an injury risk or decidedly inexperienced. And none of them are consistently reliable outside shooters. Laimbeer’s going to have his work cut out for him working out who should be on the floor on any given night.
So it’s fair to say that this team should be interesting, even for those not focussing on the front-office drama. They’ve got a star in Charles, a player they hope can take another step towards that category in Prince (once she returns from playing for Russia in EuroBasket Women), and a lot of pieces who can offer something. It’s just that an awful lot is up in the air, and at this early stage it’s hard to see how it all might come together. At least they’ve given their fans some hope for the season and something to focus on that doesn’t involve their prospective new part-owner.