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New York Liberty acquire Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton in major trade

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Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

When the New York Liberty gave their exit interviews at the end of the season, the team expressed optimism and hope that they could build off of a solid 2022. They hosted their first playoff game in five years, got an All-Star season from Sabrina Ionescu, and gave fans hope for the future. It appears that the future is now for New York.

On Sunday evening, Rachel Galligan of Just Women’s Sports and Winsidr broke the league altering news that the team acquired 2021 MVP and superstar forward, Jonquel Jones, from the Connecticut Sun:

Howard Megdal of The Next came through with the particulars:

And on Monday at noon, it became officially official...

Liberty General Manager, Jonathan Kolb, spoke about the new additions to the team and said:

In a statement, Jones talked about the move from Connecticut to Brooklyn, saying:

“To say I’m excited would be a huge understatement! To the fans, future teammates and everyone that has welcomed me to New York thank you! I can’t wait to get this season going and show out in the Big Apple!!”

ESPN’s Alexa Philippou reported that the 6’6” Jones specifically requested a trade coming to New York after meeting with other teams.

Upon news of the trade, Jones got a welcome to New York from an old friend and new Brooklyn Nets neighbor, Kevin Durant:

Sabrina Ionescu and Sandy Brondello joined the welcome party as well

In Jones, the Liberty get one of the very best players in the game. In 2022, Jones averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks a night on .513/.369/.802 shooting splits. Jones can do it all on a basketball court and the former MVP can score in a myriad of ways:

For her career, JJ is averaging around 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and a shade over a block a game on .511/.377/.787 splits.

With the Liberty, Jones will be joining a club that has placed a greater emphasis on floor spacing than the Sun did. Connecticut hasn’t been in the top half of the league in three point attempts since 2019. On the Liberty, she will be joining a team that led the WNBA in three point attempts (and fifth in efficiency) in 2022. Playing alongside Sabrina Ionescu, Marine Johannes, and Betnijah Laney will turn the Liberty into instant championship contenders. She figures to have easier scoring opportunities, more time with the ball in her hand, and more chances to make things happen on offense.

JJ has been open about not being marketed enough by the league office, and being in Brooklyn ought to correct that in a major way. Breanna Stewart spoke about JJ to ESPN’s Katie Barnes in June and said:

“She deserves way more attention than she’s gotten as a WNBA MVP. She’s a three-level scorer and makes an impact on the defensive end. It’s tough to match up with her because her size first, and then the skill she has.”

Jones is a franchise-level player and one that will unlock a universe of opportunities for New York as they vie for their first ever WNBA championship.

Perimeter help

Dallas Wings v Las Vegas Aces Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Liberty will also get some help with the perimeter defense. Kayla Thornton has spent the last six seasons with the Dallas Wings and has earned the reputation of being one of the best defenders in the WNBA. Her now former teammate, Allisha Gray spoke about KT’s defense with Arie Graham of The Next over the summer and said:

“KT is just that player that does everything that we need. She impacts the game in many ways other than scoring. Every person she guards is taller than her. It just shows how strong and how committed she is on defense.”

Sandy Brondello welcomed Thornton to the team

The Liberty struggled defending athletic wings on the perimeter, and having Thornton will help the team defend star wing players. Thornton is also a good finisher at the rim, which is something the Liberty struggled with at various points throughout the year. Sandy Brondello has talked a lot about going from paint to great, and Thornton will help address that deficiency.

Breanna Stewart still a possibility?

The trade also increases the Liberty’s cap space, giving the Tsais enough money to sign a max player and that max player could very well be Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Finals MVP and the league MVP in 2018, in other words, a Kevin Durant-like resume’.

Last May, when a restricted free agent, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai along with Liberty coach Sandy Brondello wined and dined Stewart out in L.A., where she lives. Stewart stayed with the Storm but is now an unrestricted free agent and there’s no doubt again on the Tsais’ radar. As Kevin Pelton of ESPN wrote Sunday night...

With a minimum of three roster spots to fill, the Liberty could sign a player for the max and still have about $160,000 to offer another free agent. New York doesn’t yet qualify as a superteam with (Sabrina) Ionescu and Jones, but stay tuned on that front.

WNBA free agency opens Monday. Is the Liberty version of the Clean Sweep approaching?

New locations

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

Whenever you make a big trade like this, good talent always has to go the other direction. Natasha Howard and Crystal Dangerfield are heading to the Dallas Wings, and their contributions to the 2022 Liberty were greatly appreciated.

Howard worked as a Swiss army knife on the Liberty and did everything asked of her as she played at an All Star level. She anchored the defense, was a perfect pick and roll partner with Sabrina Ionescu, was a leader on and off the court, and hit the shot that clinched the team’s playoff appearance in the season finale against the Atlanta Dream:

In her two years in New York, Howard played with a toughness and grit that inspired her teammates and inspired them to push through and succeed. Kolb spoke about Howard’s impact on the franchise and said:

“Tash played a tremendous role in repositioning this franchise as a playoff contender. It was truly special to see a three-time WNBA Champion take a chance on us and embrace the challenge of elevating a young core to the extent that she did.”

You can make a strong case that Crystal Dangerfield helped save the Liberty season. When she was inserted into the starting five on June 1, the team was on a seven-game losing streak and came off a dispiriting loss against the Seattle Storm a few days prior. Dangerfield gave the team another ball handling option in the starting five and took some playmaking pressure off of Sabrina Ionescu’s shoulders. CD helped keep the team afloat and gave them another solid defender on the perimeter. When she joined the Liberty, she had bounced around a few teams before finally finding a home in New York. In her exit interview, she shared some of her journey with the media:

Dangerfield is a solid WNBA player and she is due to join a Wings team that is in transition as they try to figure out what their future holds. Dangerfield was a consummate professional and was appreciated by her teammates and the coaching staff. Kolb added in a statement:

“Crystal’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and should be in this league for a very long time. She immediately steadied our offense, provided pace and efficiency, and became a clear difference-maker in our playoff pursuit last season.”

Rebecca Allen had been with the Liberty since 2015. She was with the team when they were last in Madison Square Garden, there in Westchester, and with them as they returned home to New York. As the franchise changed cities and ownership, Allen was steadily getting better and played hard every single night. Seeing the fanbase show out in Game 3 vs. the Chicago Sky was a point of pride for Bec and a sign of just how far the team has come since 2019. Allen was a good, rangy defender, solid finisher at the rim, and someone you can trust to hit her fair share of three pointers. Bec and the Liberty’s sixth overall pick in the 2023 Draft are heading to the Sun as they move in to a new era. GM Kolb spoke about Allen’s contributions to the organization and said:

“Bec made a lasting impact on the Liberty organization throughout her seven years here. She has been with this franchise through ups, downs, relocations, and transitions, yet her professionalism and effort never wavered. We wish her the absolute best in her next chapter with Connecticut where she will undoubtedly flourish in an expanded role.”

Liberty and Nets co-owner, Joe Tsai, sent his best wishes to Allen, Howard, and Dangerfield:

With this trade, the Liberty have firmly placed themselves in title contention. They have a young All Star guard that’s getting better by the year, the team’s heartbeat and a tough former All Star on the wing back at full strength, and young players on the bench that are gaining more experience. Now, we can add a solid wing defender and a superstar former MVP to the team. It’s an exciting time for the franchise and they hope to bring a championship to Flatbush and Atlantic.