Imagine this backcourt with an equally good frontcourt. | Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
The New York Liberty could use a frontcourt star to take their talent to another level. Could Liz Cambage be attracted by the big three that is already in the Big Apple? Will the Liberty draft NC State center Elissa Cunane as ESPN projects?
The 2021 New York Liberty have the distinction of being the team with the lowest winning percentage to ever make the playoffs. That being said, they gave the eventual runner-up Phoenix Mercury a run for their money in the first round. And their record probably should have been better. They would have made the playoffs more comfortably if they had played up to their potential all season long.
Entering the 2022 season, the Liberty have a new head coach in Sandy Brondello and much higher expectations.
By the numbers*
Free agents (type) (2021 average salary)
Rebecca Allen (unrestricted) ($105,037)
Reshanda Gray (unrestricted) ($34,651)
Paris Kea (reserved)
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (reserved)
Total average salary of free agents: $139,688
Total team salary: $1,338,063
Cap space: $937
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images
From left to right: Leaonna Odom, Kylee Shook, Michaela Onyenwere and Reshanda Gray.
The Liberty have a big three that is capable of attracting additional talent this offseason. Players who want to be in a winning situation and take a good team and turn it into a superteazm can look to New York.
With that being said, Liz Cambage, Tina Charles and Jewell Loyd seem to be the potential supermax players least tied to their current teams. Even they have good chances of staying put, but we’ll use them to hypothesize.
You could bring in Loyd to play the 2, have Betnijah Laney play the 3, Natasha Howard play the 4 and keep Kylee Shook as your starting center. You could even go smaller than that with Michaela Onyenwere coming in to play the 4 and Howard moving to the 5 with no true center in the starting lineup.
But when you look at the Liberty, what are they really missing? A high-impact big. Last year it was Reshanda Gray and Shook and neither is a star. You’ve got the star point guard (Sabrina Ionescu), shooting guard (Laney) and small forward (Howard). To make this team a superteam you need to fill out the starting lineup with a supermax power forward or center.
That’s where Charles would be perfect given New York is her hometown and she was better than Cambage last year. I ruled Charles out for the Fever because she wants to go to a contender. Unfortunately, it seems I have to rule her out for the Liberty too because she probably doesn’t want to take the risk of going back to a team she’s seen fail her in her championship quest so many times before. There would be new players now, but Charles is probably tired of trying with the Liberty.
That means Cambage would be the home run for the Liberty. You keep Asia Durr and Michaela Onyenwere, but let go of Jazmine Jones, Leaonna Odom, Jocelyn Willoughby and DiDi Richards because you have plenty of 2s and 3s. You keep Shook as Cambage’s backup and keep Gray too, unless you think Astou Ndour-Fall, Theresa Plaisance or Kiah Stokes is an upgrade and can get one of them for around $100,000 in free agency. You could also get NC State center Elissa at No. 5 in the draft, but a backup point guard like Destanni Henderson (South Carolina) would also be tempting if you feel you have enough frontcourt depth.
Does that give you the best possible team you could put together though? You’d be loaded with your four best players being Cambage, Howard, Laney and Ionescu. But here’s another scenario:
You substitute Cambage and a $100,000 player for Myisha Hines-Allen at $150,000 and Mercedes Russell at $120,000 and keep Richards, who can play some point guard, at $62,774. You still keep Shook and take Cunane in the draft. You could start Hines-Allen at the 4 and Russell at center and have Cunane and Shook grow as backups. Hines-Allen and Russell will be difficult to get at those prices, so this is a best-case scenario.
Whichever scenario is chosen, it’s important for the Liberty to get high-end frontcourt talent and also depth.
Hines-Allen would bring the added dimensions of a 3-point shot and guard-like skills, which makes her even more intriguing. Plaisance also brings the 3-point element and had a bounce-back 2021.
* All salary numbers come from HerHoopStats