Tsai who’s scheduled to inherit an upward trending NBA franchise in two seasons clearly has sizeable hoops dreams in the New York market. But in buying the Liberty, what is Tsai getting into exactly?
Well, for one, it’s a business transaction with James Dolan, the notorious owner of the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden, who had been pushing to sell the Liberty since last year, before Tsai even joined the Nets fold.
Secondly, the Liberty, much like the Nets were when Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson arrived in 2016, are in the midst of a rebuild after recording their lowest win total in franchise history last season, finishing 7-27 under first-year head coach Katie Smith.
Smith is both in the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as a player. Smith was a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist with Team USA (2000, 2004 and 2008) whose playing career spanned from 1996-2013, including two WNBA titles and seven All-Star bids.
It was a rough fall. The team did end three straight summers with the Eastern Conference’s best regular season record. Over that stretch, they finished a combined 66-36 in the regular season, and getting as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 under then head coach Bill Laimbeer.
Although they never reached the WNBA Finals in that span, they have a rich history. They’re one of the league’s premier franchises, reaching four championship series between the league’s inaugural season in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, falling short in each.
Moreover, last year saw them move from the bright lights and big city atmosphere of the Garden to a lesser (and cheaper) Westchester County Center 30 miles north in White Plains.
The (Really) Near Future
Tsai joins the league at a crucial time when WNBA players are demanding an improved pay structure. The call for higher paychecks continues to gain momentum, with many women’s sports advocates pointing out the gargantuan difference between the NBA’s mens and womens’ players.
As a result, free agency could be impacted by the players agreeing to terminate their collective bargaining agreement following the 2019 season, which ends in the fall. So after what is expected to be their final season in Westchester this summer, it’s entirely possible that the league could be on strike before the Liberty settle in a new home.
In the meantime, Tsai’s team will have to deal with restocking the roster ... uncertain where things are going. WNBA free agency begins on February 1. According to a report from Howard Megdal, the Liberty should have around $740,000 to spend, more than any other team in the league.
And in the forthcoming WNBA Draft this April, the Liberty will have the second, 14th and 26th overall picks. (In the 12-team league, there are three rounds in the draft.)
Who’s On The Roster?
The Liberty’s star-player, Tina Charles, is a 6’4” Queens native who has played center for the team. She received the franchise tag earlier this week which keeps her in New York for another season. The Christ the King High School native was the first overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft, and was acquired by New York shortly before the 2014 Draft, after four seasons with the Connecticut Sun.
For her career, the perennial All-Star is averaging 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game through nine seasons. Charles has been honored six times, including four of the five seasons she has played with the Libs.
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Charles is local in every way. She played her college basketball at the women’s basketball power UConn which also produced two of her teammates, 6’0” guard Kia Nurse, who was the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft, and former first-rounder Bria Hartley – also a New York native and also a guard. Nurse and Hartley were the team’s second and third leading scorers, respectively.
Upon arriving from the UConn basketball factory, the 6’0” Nurse became the team’s mosst accomplished scorer overnight. After dropping 17 points in her debut, Nurse continued a streak of reaching double figures in four straight games, ending with a career-high 34 points on June 2 against the Indiana Fever. The Canadian guard averaged 9.1 points for the season as the Liberty’s sixth man.
The 22-year-old has outstanding potential.
Hartley, who played her second year with her home state Liberty squad, capped off her fifth WNBA season averaging 8.5 points and a career-best 3.6 assists per game, improving from 2017 when she competed shortly after giving birth to her son Bryson.
The team also has a plethora of free agents, including Brittany Boyd, Rebecca Allen and Amanda Zauhi B., who are restricted, coupled with long-standing team members Shavonte Zellous, Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn, as well as 2015 All-Star Marissa Coleman who had an injury-riddled 2018.
A 2017 All-Star, Sugar Rodgers, who is two seasons removed from scoring 14.1 points per game while shooting 41% from three, is also going to hit unrestricted free agency. Will she want to stay in New York now that Tsai, with his billions, is the owner?
Where Will They Go?
This season’s schedule is all set, so any discussion of where they’ll play can wait ... a little bit. Word is that they will play one game this season at Barclays Center— August 13 vs. the Minnesota Lynx. It’s listed on their schedule as “Arena TBD, New York.” The question is whether Barclays can handle another 17 dates for regular season games plus the playoffs.
Nassau Coliseum could potentially be in play, though, that would be unfortunate because, after all, Long Island isn’t Brooklyn, where a WNBA team would be easier to support. Before they moved to Westchester, the Liberty was drawing 10,000 fans to the Garden.
Will there be a complete rebranding (which of course is somewhat dependent on where they play?)
Will they match the Nets colors? Share Nets marketing?
What about China? Will Tsai look to market his new team overseas?
What happens to Isiah Thomas, the Liberty’s team president since 2015? Does he head back into the Knicks fold or stay with the Liberty (unlikely).
Again, that is all unknown, but Tsai is in the WNBA market. And by extension, so are the Nets.