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WNBA 2019 Team Preview: The New York Liberty (#11) has a lot of options for its rebuild

With Tina Charles’ signing status still up in the air, the Liberty has collected players from everywhere with whom to build a winning team in 2019.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Albany Regional-Connecticut vs Louisville
Will Asia Durr be the Liberty’s much-needed second scorer in 2019?
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never ideal to end a season on a losing streak, but the New York Liberty’s 13-game losing skid to end 2018 signaled the team’s absolute need for some re-tooling in the offseason.

And re-tooling they’ve done: Only seven players from last season’s squad appear on the Liberty’s 20-player training camp roster. Instead, a handful of new faces — both experience-wise and new-to-the-team — will compete for roster spots this month.

But even among the returning players, there are questions.

Most urgently, why hasn’t Tina Charles re-signed with the team? She received the core tag for the second season in a row but, entering May, doesn’t seem too rushed to sign. Swish Appeal reached out to the Liberty yesterday for comment and, although the team answered one of our questions by tweeting to its followers, it did not reply to our question about Charles’ signing status.

But Charles has other things to worry about today — a documentary she has been working on in her free time for the past two years is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival tonight.

Charles’ presence on the training camp roster could suggest an affirmative decision coming soon, but it would still come quite late in the game.

For the Liberty, whose offense revolved around Charles last season, getting its star center back is imperative to anchoring a rebuild. But then, so is ensuring the several other roster spots are filled by the best possible players — and there are a lot of good ones to choose from.

Season outlook: The New York Liberty in 2019

Familiar faces

Of course, a Tina Charles return is the team’s best hope.

Charles led the Liberty in scoring by more than 10 points last season, and in minutes by nearly nine per game. Most teams have more than one of a player like her, someone who can score, provide valuable minutes and remain a consistently high-performing presence. But, for the Liberty — at least last season — Charles was it.

Otherwise, though, the Liberty do have some solid returners. Kia Nurse, for example, was one of the team’s most reliable scorers off the bench, and could turn that experience into a spot in the starting lineup. Bria Hartley, New York’s other high-scoring guard, is also back in 2019, as is Brittany Boyd.

But as far as players who started more than 10 games last season, Charles, Hartley and Boyd are it. And of the other returners, only Nurse (seven) and Kiah Stokes (four) started any games at all for New York.

The final two returning players from 2018 are Amanda Zahui B and Rebecca Allen. Zahui B, especially, should see some increased playing time in 2019, including some starts, with the current lack of experience in the frontcourt.

Besides last season’s returners, Reshanda Gray (2018 training camp), Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (2017) and Avery Warley-Talbert (2014-15) are all former Liberty players looking to make it back onto the team.

Notable newbies

A solid mix of players appears on the Liberty’s 2019 training camp roster, ranging from No. 2 overall draft pick Asia Durr to 13-year WNBA veteran Tanisha Wright.

Durr has all but locked up a spot on the team. Should her skills translate to the WNBA as easily as predicted, the multiple-time award winner and second-leading scorer in Louisville program history will become a top scoring option for New York. If there’s anything Durr needs to work on, it’s her shooting accuracy, especially when she’s not able to shoot at-will, like in college.

Another bright spot out of the draft is China’s Han Xu, who will bring unprecedented (but also fairly necessary) size to the Liberty. At only 19 years old, there are still plenty of ways Han can mature as a player, but she’s already shown she knows how to use her size while playing professionally in China as well as internationally.

Both Han and third-round pick Megan Huff could assert themselves as presences down low for a team that needs just that.

While the veteran Wright is past her peak, she still put in quality minutes on the Minnesota Lynx last season, adding 4.3 points per game while leading the team in three-point shooting percentage. If anything, she could end up playing something of a late-2018 Cappie Pondexter role, being a valuable asset to the team and its younger players both on and off the court.

Biggest obstacles

Here are the biggest challenges the Liberty will face this season:

  1. Finding a second scorer. The obvious answer here lies in prolific collegiate point-getter Durr, though it’s yet to be seen how well she will transition from college to the pros. Nurse, the team’s second-leading scorer last season, could also develop into this role in her second year in the league.
  2. What will it be like to win again? Losing 13 games in a row is demoralizing. Losing 13 games in a row and having to wait eight months for a shot at a win? It’s a mental block, sure, but when that win comes, the Liberty will have a lot to gain from it. Here’s to the team identifying its strengths in a win sooner rather than later.
  3. Putting together a brand-new team — and a young one, at that. Sure, some anchors remain from last year’s squad. But youth will be the dominant obstacle during this rebuilding year. The team found some stability last season in 10th overall pick Nurse, who fulfilled every expectation. How will everyone else respond to the call?

Game zone

Preseason opener

New York Liberty vs. China National Team

When: Thursday, May 9, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

How to watch: TBD

Notes: The Liberty is the only team to face another country’s national team in its preseason schedule. Therefore, New York is also the only team with a national team player facing her own country’s squad. Han Xu will be playing for the Liberty in this matchup.

Season home opener

New York Liberty vs. Indiana Fever

When: Friday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Westchester County Center, White Plains, NY

How to watch: WNBA League Pass

Notes: The Fever is one of just two teams the Liberty beat twice last season, and is also the team to whom the Liberty almost ceded 11th place during its late-season downswing. Indiana is in its second year of a major rebuild, so as far as teams at the bottom of the table go, this game will be an important confidence-builder as the Liberty ease into the season.

Marquee matchup

New York Liberty vs. Chicago Sky

When: Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Westchester County Center, White Plains, NY

How to watch: WNBA League Pass

Notes: The Liberty had one truly decisive victory in all of 2018: a 107-84 drubbing of the Sky on July 15. It also ended up being its final win of the season. This first meeting of the season between these teams will, therefore, have two questions to answer: Can the Liberty manage a win against a team it decimated last season, and will they be able to maintain the intensity and keep winning should they grab the victory?