Tina Charles, Skylar Diggins
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images, AP Photo

The New York Liberty have some decisions to make before their Brooklyn arrival and a WNBA Draft where they own the top pick.

Magliocchetti with the Liberty

The New York Liberty made one big transaction this offseason, bringing in Walt Hopkins as the eighth head coach in franchise history.

Hopkins and general manager Jonathan Kolb will now begin the process of adding names to the roster, as the WNBA free agency process begins this week. Teams were officially able to begin negotiations on Monday, while contracts and offer sheets can be signed on Feb. 10.

Adding to the excitement of this free agency period is the arrival of a new collective bargaining agreement. Among the provisions of the new CBA are increased salaries, with experienced players set to make a new minimum base of $68,000.

Despite a combined 17-51 record over the past two seasons, hope is high for the Liberty as the transition period begins. The team is set to play their first full season in Barclays Center and own the first overall pick in this spring’s WNBA Draft.

Before the excitement tips off in May, the Liberty will have several decisions to make concerning their debut Brooklyn lineups…

Resolved

The Liberty have resolved their free agency cases with two players thus far.

C Kiah Stokes-After partaking in Turkey’s EuroBasket excursion, Stokes opted to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season for personal reasons. She re-signed with the team shortly after the season ended. Stokes is the Liberty’s all-time leader in blocks (163) and has averaged 6.1 rebounds per game over her four-year career thus far.

G Tanisha Wright-Though never officially declared, all signs point to retirement for the veteran Wright. She is currently serving as an assistant coach for the Charlotte 49ers.

Core Player

Core players give the player’s current team exclusive negotiating rights. A player can receive the core designation a maximum of three times in her career. Under the new CBA, core players can receive a max $215,000 salary, up from $117,500.

C/F Tina Charles-Charles made it clear on several occasions last season that Barclays Center was “the only ideal place that’s suitable for a professional women’s basketball team.” A combination of the Brooklyn dream finally fully realized, not to mention the fact she’s on her final “core” designation, could finally lead to a long-term deal for Charles.

Her situation is remarkably similar to another New York sports icon—Henrik Lundqvist. The pair has won nearly every award, every honor in their bona fide Hall of Fame careers…except a league championship ring. Charles, 31, certainly has more time and this is the perfect chance to lock her up long-term.

Reserved Players

Reserved free agents are ones with three or fewer years of WNBA service. Similar to the core designation, teams have exclusive negotiating rights. 

C/F Reshanda Gray-Had the Liberty visited the win column a few more times, Gray could’ve garnered some Most Improved Player consideration. She was literally the last woman to reach the roster and partook in her first WNBA action since 2016. Gray would play in all 34 games and set new career-bests in all major categories. It’ll be interesting to see if Gray, an All-Star in her current South Korean exploits, keeps a spot on the Liberty roster with fellow interior representative Stokes returning from a year off and Han Xu’s role possibly expanding.

G Marine Johannes-The French import joined up with the Liberty in the middle of last season after representing her nation in the EuroBasket tournament. She immediately made an impression by reaching double figures in two of her first three games and three times in her last four. In his introductory press conference, Hopkins referred to Johannes as “one of the most underrated, talented players in this league” and “a special player.” Keeping her in tow will be one of the bigger tasks of the offseason.

F/C Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe-After a year away from the W, the Canadian-born Raincock-Ekunwe took advantage of late opportunities. She reached double-figures in back-to-back games, tying a career-high with 12 points in a September hookup with the future champions from Washington. Raincock-Ekunwe also served as an immediate mentor to Johannes, a relationship that began with their work in France. If the Liberty keep Johannes, it could strengthen the case to retain Raincock-Ekunwe as well.

Restricted Free Agents

Restricted free agents have four or five years of experience and allow the player’s original team has four days to match an offer extended by a newcomer. 

The Liberty do not have any free agents designated restricted.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any team, provided they have not received the core designation. 

G Bria Hartley-The veteran Hartley established a new career-highs in scoring (9.8 PPG) and rebounds (3.2 RPG). With the Liberty expected to use the top draft pick on Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu, things could get very crowded on the depth chart. Asia Durr is also expected to return from injury and veteran Brittany Boyd remains under contract (Rebecca Allen is also listed as a guard, but is used more often as a forward). Thus, Hartley could wind up seeking a more stable situation, though a potential trade certainly opens the door wider for her return.

Outside Names to Watch

G Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dallas-The four-time All-Star was cored by the Wings, but Diggins-Smith has made it clear she’d like to seek out new opportunities, citing a lack of support after playing the 2018 season pregnant. A sign-and-trade would allow her to find a new team immediately. New York could provide that new start. Hopkins served as the Director of Basketball Operations and Player Development Coach for Dallas’ previous identity, the Tulsa Shock, when Diggins-Smith was drafted in 2013.

C Temi Fagbenle, Minnesota-Hopkins has already added fellow former Lynx assistant Shelley Patterson to his bench. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Liberty meet with Minnesota’s free agents, including Fagbenle, who set new career-bests in all major categories last season. If Gray walks, Fagbenle can become a solid veteran mentor to Han as well as a valuable reserve who knows how Hopkins and Patterson work.

G Danielle Robinson, Minnesota-The 2020 Liberty could potentially showcase a rotation that features All-Star Kia Nurse, alongside top-two picks Durr and Ionescu. Robinson, 31, could serve as a reliable mentor and veteran prescience to the young group. Under the watch of Hopkins and Patterson, Robinson reached double figures in scoring for the first time since 2014 (10.1 PPG). In New York, however, Robinson would likely have to revert to a reserve role. She started 26 games in a Lynx uniform last season.

F Shekinna Stricklen, Connecticut-Hopkins bluntly declared on his first day at Barclays that “we’re going to shoot a lot more threes.” In that case, who better to add than the defending champion of the WNBA’s three-point contest? Stricklen was a key factor behind the Sun’s run to the WNBA Finals. Her prior season average of 9.0 PPG was her best since earning 10.0 as a sophomore in Seattle in 2013.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.

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