For a year, the worst kept secret within WNBA circles was that Breanna Stewart, two-time champion with the Seattle Storm, was looking at the team that plays in her native New York State with a more than curious eye.
Stewart notably had a meeting with Joe and Clara Wu Tsai during the 2022 free agency period and that began plenty of speculation amongst the WNBA family that 2022 would be her final season in the Emerald City.
When it was revealed that her choices were narrowed down to the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm, we knew she would be wearing some shade of green in 2023 and beyond. As it turns out, that shade of green will be seafoam.
Stewie is headed back to her native Empire State in hopes of bringing the Liberty its first-ever championship. Thankfully, she tweeted her decision on the first day that players can officially sign on the dotted line with teams.
It comes among a wave of first-day free agent signing news. This includes Nneka Ogwumike returning to the Los Angeles Sparks, Kristi Toliver and Brittany Sykes to the Washington Mystics, Alysha Clark (and Candace Parker) to the Las Vegas Aces, AD Durr signing a training camp contract with the Atlanta Dream and the ever-looming decision about another ex-Chicago Sky in Courtney Vandersloot.
But No. 30’s announcement was the announcement that WNBA fans everywhere was waiting on – especially given the team she has been linked to for roughly an entire calendar year.
The announcement has a laundry list of ramifications but one of them is that the landscape of the WNBA has indeed changed. Stewie to the seafoam, black and copper (along with Parker to the Aces and Sloot also leaving Chicago) has made it clear that the Aces and Liberty may be the two teams to beat the next few seasons in the WNBA.
In lots of ways, this not that much of an accident either.
The story on the surface is how Las Vegas and New York appear to be the two teams that are head and shoulders above everyone else (especially with Connecticut, Seattle and Chicago seemingly staring rebuilds – and the 2024 WNBA draft – in the face).
The real story is how the last few months of WNBA activity has led up to what we are seeing.
The Aces and Liberty also have the distinction of being the two teams whose owners (Mark Davis for the Aces and the Tsais for the Lib) are perceived as being owners who are investing the most money into enhancing the player experience.
Chartered flights are a hot-button topic among WNBA players and it seems as if the most pro-charter owners in the W are the Tsais and Davis. Even though the Liberty received a hefty fine from the WNBA for its use of charters, as was uncovered in that Howard Megdal report in Sports Illustrated, among WNBA players, this made New York an even more attractive destination than what is already has been under the stewardship of the Tsais.
The message from WNBA players appears to be clear that teams whose owners are pro-charters are the teams who will have first dibs on players when it comes to free agency talks.
Also, the Liberty are one of four Original Eight teams remaining in the WNBA – and the only one of those Original Eight that has yet to win a championship. New York being the W’s flagship franchise, finally winning its first ring and being serenaded with a ticker tape parade up Gotham’s famed Canyon of Heroes will be a watershed moment for the league as a whole – and one that has to have the Liberty’s former MVP additions in Stewie and Jonquel Jones excited about the possibilities. That is especially true when considering Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney are also still on New York’s roster.
Another question is where does this leave the Storm? Also where does this leave the Sky? Vandersloot’s name has also been linked to the Liberty in recent weeks. Chicago – the lone franchise in the WNBA whose coach is also its general manager (James Wade) ought to be looking very hard at potentially doing a deal to bring Jewell Loyd, a Windy City native in her own right, back to the Chi. But if Vandersloot indeed goes to the Storm and does not follow Stewart to the Liberty, that may make that task a bit harder for the Sky.
Would teams such as the Sun, Storm and Sky also place themselves in position to potentially land a top draft pick in the 2024 draft? As we have mentioned before that draft is likely to be one of the more talent-rich drafts in history – including Angel Reese of LSU, Caitlin Clark of Iowa, Paige Bueckers of UConn, Cameron Brink of Stanford, Aaliyah Edwards of UConn, Hailey Van Lith of Louisville and Deja Kelly of North Carolina.
Those are all questions that will certainly be answered in the coming weeks and months. But those are all dominoes that will surely fall into place now that the biggest of dominoes has indeed fallen.
Lib Loyals can now see the light at the end of the Holland or the Lincoln Tunnels – and it appears the Liberty’s first championship, in all of its shining glory, awaits.