The New York Liberty signed Washington Mystics guard and restricted free agent Natasha Cloud to an offer sheet last Friday only to see Washington match the offer the same day. For the Mystics, they accomplished one of their key offseason goals: to retain their starting guard. But for the Liberty, they still only have three players under contract according to Howard Megdal’s WNBA salary database. What should New York do to build their roster for the 2019 season?
The Liberty must focus on re-signing their restricted free agents
Though the Liberty entered free agency with the most cap space available, they cannot be passive. To their credit, they agreed to an offer sheet with Cloud early in the negotiation period though the Mystics matched it. But New York also should not remain asleep at the wheel because most of their players are available.
Rebecca Allen, Brittany Boyd and Amanda Zahui B. are also restricted free agents. Though neither signed an offer sheet with another team, they should still try to re-sign them to new contracts on their own. Of the three, Boyd had the best season statistically, where she averaged 6.4 points and 5.3 assists in 14 starts last season and would likely receive the highest salary of the three.
New York should consider signing their unrestricted free agents to short deals — or part ways
Marissa Coleman, Epiphanny Prince, Kia Vaughn and Shavonte Zellous are New York’s unrestricted free agents. As of Monday, none of the players re-signed with New York or with another team. All four players are also older than 30 years old and started many games last season for a 7-27 team. Re-signing all of them doesn’t seem logical when they each declined from their peaks. And New York has the second overall pick in this year’s WNBA Draft, so the team will — or at least should — focus on building with youth.
The Liberty will probably re-sign one or two of these players for 2019. However, such a contract should be for just one year. This way, the Liberty can save their cap space for 2020 when there is a new collective bargaining agreement and possibly a significantly higher salary cap.
Convince Tina Charles that New York can contend sooner rather than later
Charles has a decorated WNBA and international playing career for Team USA where she won a WNBA MVP award (2012) and two Olympic gold medals (2012, 2016). However, Charles still hasn’t played in a WNBA Finals. Since the Liberty were just 7-27 in the 2018 season, there is a lot of work to do before they are contending for a Finals once again.
With new owner Joseph Tsai taking the reins in January, that should provide Charles some assurance that the Liberty is in stable hands going forward. However, the basketball team itself isn’t in good shape. Perhaps Tsai will want to make changes at GM position before proceeding with roster moves. But not doing something relatively soon would backfire, as other teams are in action with players signing contracts. At present, the Liberty don’t have many players to trade until they re-sign someone.
Charles is a cored player so she can only re-sign with the Liberty. But as a 30-year-old eight-year pro, is she truly happy playing for a team that may not contend for several years? Past cored players who were unhappy have sat out portions of seasons to force trades, including Sylvia Fowles, when she requested a trade from the Sky in the 2015 season. And the Liberty certainly do not want to be in a situation like the Lynx are with Maya Moore, or the Wings are with Liz Cambage.
If New York can commit to building with a younger roster and their existing players — like Kia Nurse, Bria Hartley, Sugar Rodgers and the 2019 Draft pick while keeping their cap space under control for 2020 — it could be enough to convince Charles to commit to New York. And should things play out right from there, the Liberty can be back in contention sooner than most think.