Recruiting season is always a good time. It’s your time to highlight your best attributes, make new connections, and lay down the foundation for the future. If you play your cards right, you'll walk away from recruiting season stronger and better than ever.
The New York Liberty is doing just that with Breanna Stewart.
Stewart, who spent her career in Seattle but is now a free agent, is easily the biggest name in this year’s WNBA free agent class. Her resume is impeccable as she has won everywhere she's been. As one of the game's biggest and brightest stars, she boosts her team's championship odds as soon as she steps on the court.
Currently, Stewart is playing with Fenerbahce in Istanbul,Turkey, part of the women’s Euroleague competition. So, if you want to talk with her, you’ve got to head to Istanbul as the Liberty have.
Luis Vallejo of NBA Spain and Gigantes Basket was on the scene of Fenerbahce’s win against Virtus Segafredo Bologna on Wednesday. Per the box score, Stewie didn’t have the most dominant of games, but did wind up with 14 points, ten rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks in 29 minutes. The big news, at least for Liberty fans, was that there were some special guests on hand for the game:
Las @nyliberty, presentes en Estambul. Diría que son:— Luis Vallejo (@Lvallejocolom) January 25, 2023
▪️Sandy Brondello (Entrenadora)
▪️Clara Wu Tsai (copropietaria)
▪️Jonathan Kolb (GM)
▪️Ohemaa Nyanin (Asistente GM)
Con todo a por Breanna Stewart.
It’s been a pretty busy week for Clara Wu Tsai. She was with her other team, the Brooklyn Nets, on the last legs of their West Coast road trip, celebrating their big win over Golden State last Sunday, then making her way to Europe with the rest of the Liberty contingent to Istanbul.
And it appears to be working. On Sunday, Rachel Galligan of Just Women’s Sports and Winsidr reported that Stewart has narrowed her free agency choices down to just two teams...
Breanna Stewart has officially narrowed down her potential free agency destination to Seattle or New York, a league source informs @Winsidr— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) January 29, 2023
Then on Monday, the Liberty got an assist from a fellow generational superstar...
.@KDTrey5 REALLY wants Breanna Stewart to join the New York Liberty.— Boardroom (@boardroom) January 30, 2023
"I hit [Breanna Stewart] the other day, and I never do this, and was like, 'Yo, it would be an incredible dynasty in New York City if you came here.'" pic.twitter.com/BTnCtkETJW
And longtime Nets medical director, Dr. Riley Williams III, joined KD in “hoping” for the best.
I’m so hoping this goes down.— Riley J Williams III MD (@rileywilliamsMD) January 30, 2023
In looking at the Libs’ prospects, it’s helpful to think back to the introductory press conference of the newest Liberty star, Jonquel Jones. General Manager, Jonathan Kolb, was asked about his team’s strategy this offseason and said:
“We’re gonna be really aggressive. I think we’re hellbent on bringing a championship. It’s what we said from 2019 and we’re gonna say it every single year. I think we’ve proven that we are willing to be aggressive and we will continue to do that. We are very excited at the opportunity to add talent and we’ll see how this plays out over the next few weeks.”
The Liberty met with Stewart in 2022 before she ultimately decided to return to the Seattle Storm. In order to make Stew York happen, the Liberty will have to contend with some fierce competition. In addition to the New York contingent, the Storm, Washington Mystics, and Minnesota Lynx had representatives meet with Stewart as well. She can sign a new deal starting Wednesday.
For the Liberty, signing Stewart would be a Clean Sweep of epic proportions. Pairing Stewart to a core that includes Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney, Han Xu, and Marine Johannes would push them into the top tier of the league and allow them to build even more off of a promising 2022. Even if they land Stewart, they may not stop there.
The team is also interested in the biggest free agent point guard on the market. They've expressed interest in Chicago Sky guard, Courtney Vandersloot, and were set to meet with her last weekend in New York.
[CLIP] The @nyliberty met with free agent and WNBA champion Courtney Vandersloot this weekend, as the @WNBA free agency negotiation period officially opened Saturday.— Khristina Williams (@Khristina) January 23, 2023
My latest on Sloot with @DHenryTV pic.twitter.com/zzY4uCXQ1s
The league is full of great guards and landing a vet like Vandersloot would be another NY home run. With Jonquel Jones, it might even be considered a grand slam.
There's a fascinating subplot intertwined in the Stewart free agency sweepstakes. For years, WNBA players have had to fly charter as they travel from city to city. It’s had a direct impact on the players on the court and in the race for the playoffs. This issue is one the Liberty franchise is all too familiar with.
After a barn burner of a win against the Aces in Vegas, the Liberty had to travel by bus to play the Phoenix Mercury the very next night. They got in at 4 a.m., were fatigued early, and wound up losing a close one to a fellow playoff contender. That was enough for the Tsais. They quietly, secretly — your choice — put their players on charters and even arranged for a weekend off at a toney Napa Valley retreat.
Once the news got out, the WNBA old guard was outraged. The franchise was fined $500,000 and even threatened with franchise termination . WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said at the time that the league was trying to come to an agreement with airline companies. Thus far, nothing has come to fruition.
Stars like Liz Cambage, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Stewart have banged the drum on this issue for years and Stewie took to Twitter recently to propose a solution:
I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA.— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) January 22, 2023
I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hrs to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, which ultimately results in a better product.
Who’s with me?
Stewart got praise across the board and it’s brought this issue back to the forefront. In recent years, NBA players have begun to speak out more in solidarity with their peers in the WNBA. NBPA VP and Nets star, Kyrie Irving, has worked in solidarity and support of his W peers in the past and got asked about this situation a few days ago. Here’s what he said:
“As one of the Vice Presidents in the NBPA, we’ve discussed a range of these things, and I wish it was as easy as getting it tomorrow, but business takes a little bit of patience, and our W ladies have been patient long enough. We’ve definitely gotta get something done, and I’m with them no matter how much it costs. I think we could all collectively come together and make something very doable happen, and we just want to have our ladies have peace of mind while they’re playing.”
“[WNBA players] don’t need to be overseas all the time. They need to be here playing in front of their families every single day doing what we do. So I think it’s a lesson learned right now of how we can attack this as a family because the W and the NBA, we’re a family. And I think things will be figured out before the season gets started. I’m very optimistic about that.”
Complicating things even further, Brittney Griner will be flying charter this season out of security concerns following her release from a Russian prison camp. Will her Phoenix Mercury teammates join her on the charter or will they be forced to continue to fly commercial?
The issue has continued to gain mainstream coverage and isn’t going away. With the league looking to grow even more, they have to ensure conditions are suitable for this generation of superstars to play to the very best of their abilities. If the team owners get this issue right once and for all, it’ll make life easier for everyone and remove one major hassle for players to deal with. And with one of the game’s biggest stars pressing the issue, might be just enough to push it over the top ... and get Stewart to New York.