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Haynes: Tsais trying to woo WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart to Liberty

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Washington Mystics v Seattle Storm Photo by Josh Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

If the WNBA had a Kevin Durant, her name would be Breanna Stewart.

A two-time WNBA champion (check), a two-time WNBA Finals MVP (check), a regular season MVP (check), member of the WNBA’s 25th anniversary team (check), etc., etc. etc.

The Seattle Storm power forward is also a free agent like KD was in 2019 and Joe and Clara Wu Tsai want to be bring the free agent forward to Brooklyn. It would be the WNBA equivalent of the Nets “Clean Sweep” three years ago.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports tweets...

Stewart, a 6’4” 27-year-old, even has a relationship with Durant. She advised him on his achilles rupture, an injury that she experienced in April 2019, months before KD blew out his achilles. The relationship has included KD appearing on Stewart’s YouTube channel to talk hoops and their respective recoveries.

WNBA free agency opened January 15 but no deals can be finalized till February 1.

A Stewart move from Seattle to New York would show, once again, how serious the Tsais are in pushing the Liberty into title contention ... and a seismic shift in the WNBA. They bought the team from James Dolan in January 2019 and after a season in Westchester, then another in the WNBA’s Bradenton, Fla. “wubble,” the Liberty are now full ensconced in Brooklyn. Their seafoam and black jerseys are the league’s top sellers.

Reading into Haynes’ tweet, the Tsais seem to be promoting the financial value of a New York connection. The contingent that met with the UConn icon, Haynes tweeted, included “business leads.” Stewart is a native of Syracuse.

Later Friday, in an interview with The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, the Liberty’s Betnijah Laney, a star in her own right, went a long way in confirming the report.

“There are a few great players that we’ve been talking to that I would love to play with,” Laney said. “I’m not going to name drop just yet.”

Laney also said she’s been “hanging around New York” with top-flight free agent, Stef Dolson, a 6’5” center who helped the Chicago Sky win the WNBA crown this past summer.

“It would be really great to have her, but ultimately, I hope she makes a decision that makes her really happy, that makes sense for her and her career. I would love for that to be here in New York. So we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Indeed, Haynes also reported that the Liberty had met with Dolson as well.

The presence of budding stars like Laney and Sabrina Ionescu as well as rookie of the year Michaela Onyenwere and and Stewart’s former Storm teammate, Natasha Howard are all likely to be attractive to WNBA free agents. In their press conference introducing Brondello earlier this month, Jackie Powell of The Next noted ownership and management have a “desire to develop the Liberty’s young core while also adding complementary pieces to ensure ‘quality WNBA personnel throughout’ their 2022 roster.”

In recent months, both Joe and Clara Wu Tsai have promised big things, big investments, in the Liberty in hopes of improving the team’s attendance which shrunk to less than 2,000 last year despite the team’s first playoff run in four years. COVID — and the Liberty’s many moves in the last decade — have been cited for the lack of attendance.

Joe Tsai told NetsDaily in October that he’s optimistic about both his team prospects and attendance going forward, providing some projected numbers.

“Certainly, I hope that in the following season — this will start next May — we should have multiple numbers of what we were getting — I think we were slightly over 2,000 in Barclays Center, and Barclays Center looks not very good with 2,000 fans.

“I think we should at least fill the lower bowl with a view of getting — I feel like we should get 6,000 to 8,000. I hope we can get to that level and we can build on that, and hopefully have like 12,000 at some point. Maybe not next season, but in the future.”

That latter number would exceed what the Liberty were getting in their full season at the Garden in 2017, and would help the WNBA which depends on having a big team with big attendance in the league’s biggest market.

In a November interview with YES Network, Wu Tsai spoke about their plans to invest in the Liberty.

“We’re going to invest in the New York Liberty the same way we invest in our NBA team,” said Wu Tsai who is co-governor of the Libs with husband Joe Tsai. She did not provide details but noted the investment has already begun.

“And the first thing we did when we bought the team (in 2019) was to move them to Barclays Center because they were playing in a little community gym in Westchester. And we brought them here because we know these women deserve to play in an international arena like and we certainly intend to have them playing in front of a full house.”

Part of that investment came earlier this month when the Liberty hired Sandy Brondello, who took the Mercury to the Finals this year and won it all with Phoenix back in 2014. As Haynes notes, she was part of the meeting in LA.