Stay locked in. With the fast paced nature of the world today, it’s easy to lose track of things. Other major events take priority, you have your own things to work on, and sometimes stuff gets lost in the shuffle. When you get to sit with everything and take a look at where things are, you can appreciate all the good things that are happening.
Sabrina Ionescu has had a great few months. She won a Gold Medal at the FIBA World Cup in Australia, got engaged, picked up a part time job at her alma mater, the University of Oregon, and is back with the Team USA Women’s National Team as they prepare to go for gold in Paris at the 2024 Olympics. And last but certainly not least, she’s a key player on a championship caliber New York Liberty team as we enter into the 2023 WNBA season. Everything’s looking up for the young star and she is gearing up for what might be the best season of her young career so far.
The convo started with a discussion about the state of women’s college basketball. With young superstars like Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Azzi Fudd, and Paige Beuckers set to leave the NCAA and enter the WNBA in the coming years, the game of basketball will climb even higher heights. A few days after this episode came out, Clark added one more legendary moment to her ledger
The talent in women’s college basketball is incredible and getting better by the day. Ionescu was asked about the possibility of college players coming into the W earlier, and she gave a pretty interesting answer:
I think once our CBA negotiates a higher salary cap for players in this league, you’re going to be able to leave college early and make a great living in the WNBA and not have to go overseas. I think now, the hard thing with the rule of having to be 21 or graduate from college, they’re just trying to set you up for success because the salary cap is what it is in our league. And so, I think if we’re able to continue to build that, it’ll give a lot of these players the opportunity to go pro early, make their money and if they want to go back to school after, they’re able to.
Recently, Arielle Chambers of HighlightHER posed a great question on Twitter
Now that we're here talking about it, what do you think should be priority for the WNBA— Arielle (Ari) Chambers (@ariivory) February 22, 2023
As Ionescu and the Liberty organization know real well, the issue of chartering flights is one that isn’t going away any time soon. However, what she mentioned about the cap could prove to be more pressing for the game. With the influx of talent set to enter the W soon, there may not be enough roster spots for all of the great players out there. League expansion has been put on hold indefinitely, and that poses a big problem for the league. There’s too much talent for so few spots available in the United States, and growing the league and having more teams will help the game grow. Along with that, it might be beneficial if the upcoming CBA allows for rosters to grow beyond a maximum of 12 players. Even in New York, they’ve had to part ways with developing young players due to not having enough roster space to accommodate everybody.
It could also minimize the effect of prioritization. In a wonderful story over at The Next, Isabel Rodgrigues took a look at the issue and wrote:
From 2019 to 2022, the number of players on a standard, full-season contract dropped by nearly 26%. Most of the quickly evaporating contracts had been held by veteran role players, many of which began hopping from team to team on hardship contracts, which often paid less than $15k. With the chances of making a WNBA roster remaining slim, the value of that second contract — that overseas paycheck — increased in tandem.
But timetables for leagues outside of the U.S. have frequently overlapped with the start of the WNBA season, causing players at every level and payscale to arrive late to training camp, and in some cases miss entire months of play. In 2021, 55 players were late to training camp, and around 47 players arrived late in 2022 — including the reigning Finals MVPs in both years.
League management simply has to be better at keeping the talent here in the W.
To Ionescu’s other point, getting more money into the game with a larger, more lenient salary cap will do wonders for the league. It would allow for players to earn more over the course of their careers, let them have full off-seasons to rest and recover, promote roster continuity, and save the players from having to deal with the complications of being overseas. We’re just coming off a situation where one of the game’s greatest players dealt with a traumatic ordeal when she was overseas. With more money in the WNBA, ownership that invests in the game, and new leagues like Athletes Unlimited, the players will start to get the money they deserve.
A new day
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, it’s been a pretty awesome winter for the Liberty! They’ve got a new cadre of superstars coming to Brooklyn as New York City looks for its first basketball championship since the 1970s. With Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, and Jonquel Jones joining the dynamic duo Betnijah Laney of Ionescu, the stars will be out this summer.
Health has been key to Ionescu’s rise and comeback after her early struggles in the league. Eddie asked Sabrina what she locked into during her training, and she said:
“Not having to rehab and have a surgery and have something kind of looming in the background to hinder the ability to be able to train at the highest level the entire offseason has been one of the biggest blessings that I’ve been able to have. From the day the season ended to everyday now, just being able to be more explosive and working on the things that I couldn’t in the last two years because I was just rehabbing to be able to get back on the floor. But now, I can actually work on my craft and so I’m excited. I think the first thing I thought of is like “I’m not going to be double teamed now!” Shots are going to be easier. I’m laughing with my coaches like “I might have open looks now,” whereas before like I was getting double teamed, triple teamed, and not having open looks. So I think, just continuing to find ways to you know get my shot off. Get in the paint and create for others. But ultimately it’s going to be like “Can I can I make an open shot?” because I’m not used to being able to see the hoop.”
For the Liberty, they improved at the rim towards the end of the season after struggling throughout much of 2022. With the amount of space that the team has to work with and the personal work she’s done to get better at creating her offense without ball screens, Ionescu will have so many more opportunities to attack the basket and finish over tough defenders
They joked that Ionescu might become a catch and shoot kind of player, but that would be pretty smooth!
You double Jonquel Jones in the post, and there’s Ionescu wide open ready to cash in from deep. Overhelp on a drive, and she’s free again to make you pay. The Liberty have the opportunity to do something special for basketball fans in Brooklyn this year, and Ionescu will be a big part of that.
Friendly face in a new place
The name of the show is “The ETCs with Kevin Durant,” but no Kevin Durant! KD was off as he worked on his rehab to prepare for his (successful!) Phoenix Suns debut in Charlotte. Sab and KD train together during the NBA offseason and are the faces of Boardroom and 35V. Seeing your friend move to a job on the other side of the country is tough, but a bit exciting at the same time as well. Ionescu spoke about the big trade and said:
“I think a part of me, I know there was always talks on Twitter, you see everything about the deadline and trades can still happen and there’s rumors that Kevin might go to Phoenix. I wasn’t sure, but a part of me thought it could for sure happen when Kyrie left and kind of everything that just happened with the Nets, but you just never know. I didn’t think I’d be woken up and in this shock, but I’m happy for him if that’s the decision that he thought was best for him. He’s going to kill it out there. They have great players. They have a great point guard and so I think they’re one of the favorites to win it this year. And I’m happy for him if he’s going to be a part of that.”
By all accounts, the split was an emotional one for Durant and the Brooklyn Nets. Everyone did their best to make it work, but they didn’t reach the big goal they all set out for. That said, Durant was able to reestablish himself as one of the game’s greatest players following one of the most devastating injuries in sports. KD built a lot of great, long lasting relationships with the people in the building and the fans across Brooklyn throughout his time here, and that shouldn’t be minimized or forgotten. As an observer, watching a player operate in the way Durant does on the court was spectacular and he brought his customary level of excellence every time he put on Nets colors. It’s going to be extremely difficult for the Nets franchise to get back to where they were in 2021, but stranger things have happened and they have a great young player ready to step up and lead the way.
As one legend departs and another enters Barclays Center, KD and Stewie (along with Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces) serve as shining examples of overcoming Achilles injuries and coming back better than ever
The game is in a wonderful place right now. The Liberty have had a sensational offseason break and are preparing to take on all challengers in 2023. With Ionescu locked in and building off of her career year in 2022, they are one of the favorites to bring the chip home to Brooklyn. The city’s gonna be rocking when the Liberty tip off this spring.