It almost feels like yesterday.
The WNBA tipped off its inaugural season in June 1997, and it is about to embark on its 20th season.
The New York Liberty, one of the original founding teams, are ready to begin their season-long push for that elusive WNBA Championship which has escaped their grasp.
Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer begins his fourth season in charge when the season opens, this Saturday, on the road against the Washington Mystics. The Liberty’s home opener, at Madison Square Garden, will be the next day against the Dallas Wings.
The Liberty, despite finishing with their best record in franchise history, fell to the Indiana Fever, in the Eastern Conference Finals. Team president Isiah Thomas placed an emphasis on improving team depth, specifically in the backcourt.
Free agent guard Lindsey Harding is a former number one overall pick out of Duke University. Harding brings experience at the point and can effectively get a team into their offensive sets, she led the WNBA in assists in 2013.
Thomas acquired All-Star point guard Shoni Schimmel in a trade with the Atlanta Dream. Schimmel, in only two WNBA seasons, is a two-time All-Star. She can shoot it from long-range and plays a solid lead guard position.
Schimmel reportedly may have become available due to conditioning problems. However Thomas saw enough potential value there to swap a 2017 send-round draft pick. This could be a case of low-risk, high reward which might pay off in added offense for the Liberty.
The Liberty went back to the free-agent market with the signing of veteran guard Shavonte Zellous. She has familiarity with Laimbeer, he drafted her while head coach of the Detroit Shock. Zellous comes over from the Indiana Fever, she helped them reach the WNBA Finals last season.
This year’s draft produced center Adut Bulgak (1st round), guard Ameryst Alston (2nd round), and guard/forward Shacobia Barbee (3rdround). Bulgak, out of Florida State, gives Laimbeer an intriguing option in the frontcourt. She has the ability to play a stretch-four position and can run the floor.
A Sizable Void to Fill
The Liberty’s emphasis this offseason was on backcourt depth and added scoring to help offset the loss of last season’s leading scorer and floor general Epiphanny Prince. The team will miss her scoring while she continues to recover from a torn ACL, and she is expected to miss most of this season.
The Impact of Tina Charles
Tina Charles is a big-time key to any success the Liberty have this season, especially on offense. Charles averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last season, continuing to prove she’s one of the league’s best players. Charles was named to the USA Olympic Team, which will play in Rio de Janerio this summer.
What to Expect in 2016?
The loss of Prince is a big-time blow to the Liberty, however Thomas and Laimbeer did a good job in aggressively going out and filling the roster with enough options to help fill the void.
How long it takes for the new faces on this year’s team to settle into their roles will play a major factor in maintaining the team’s upward trending.
Swin Cash is a 14-yearth WNBA pro, and her leadership and savvy play will be key to the Liberty building on last season’s success.
There’s an overall solid mix of experience, talent and youth on this team.
The Liberty are coming off the most successful season in franchise history, they’re also the only remaining founding team without a WNBA Championship.
There’s more than enough incentive in this, the 20th season of the WNBA, for the Liberty to finish the job.