Sandy Brondello is most well known for winning the WNBA title in her first year as the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury — her second year as a head coach in the league. That was 2014, Brittney Griner’s second year as a pro. Griner was the hyped up No. 1 of the “Three to See” and at 6-foot-9 was expected to become a superstar in the WNBA. Brondello helped guide her to a championship, but the team also had the GOAT in Diana Taurasi.
Now, in 2022, Brondello is expected to take over as the head coach of the New York Liberty, a team full of young talent, including a hyped up former No. 1 pick in Sabrina Ionescu, who is 24 years old.
Brondello improved Phoenix’s regular season record by 10 games from 2013 to 2014. But that was taking a winning team that went to the Western Conference Finals and making them better. It was a team that had Taurasi and Penny Taylor, who had already won two championships together.
If the Liberty were to improve by 10 games in 2022, they would be going from 12-20 to 22 wins or so with the extended schedule. It would be a 15-game improvement over two years as the team went 2-20 in 2020.
The 2021 Liberty are the worst regular-season team to ever make the WNBA Playoffs, but even if they had missed the playoffs, their turnaround would have been seen as a positive step forward. And once they were in the playoffs, the Liberty gave Brondello’s Mercury a run for their money in the first round. Against a Phoenix team that went on to be the most explosive offensive team in the playoffs and defeat the preseason favorite Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals before falling to the Chicago Sky in the Finals, New York was difficult to score on early.
Brondello has been through thick and thin with Taurasi and Griner and came up just short of another championship. Had the Mercury won, maybe Brondello would still be in Phoenix. Instead she appears to be a splash hire for New York and an upgrade over Walt Hopkins.
It should be mentioned, though, that it will be odd to not see Hopkins on the sidelines leading the Liberty in 2022. The franchise seemed excited to bring him in prior to the 2020 season and his enthusiasm about the team and dedication to his players was evident. Just as people were scratching their heads over Brondello not being brought back in Phoenix, there is at least some reason to wonder why Hopkins was not given a third season at the helm in New York after taking the team to the playoffs.
The Liberty may not have a 32-year old Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree, Penny Taylor and DeWanna Bonner, but they do have three-time WNBA champion Natasha Howard, who will be one of their biggest stars. Howard has been there, done that with the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm and New York also has Sami Whitcomb, who was Howard’s teammate for two titles in Seattle.
Then, there is of course Betnijah Laney and Ionescu, who join Howard as members of the team’s big three, and reigning Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere.
The big three of Laney, Howard and Ionescu is underrated and is definitely good enough to lead the Liberty back to the playoffs. We’ll see if Brondello can provide the spark that propels the team further than the first round.