Inside the Liberty

Editor's note: Before the 2006 season tips off, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 14 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at New York.

Did offseason changes make the team better, the same or worse?

Simply put, the Liberty did not do as well as it needed to in some areas. The Liberty's roster from last season has been gutted, as four of five starters are gone. Vickie Johnson (Silver Stars) and Crystal Robinson (Mystics) left as free agents and perennial All-Stars Elena Baranova of Russia and Ann Wauters of Belgium are staying overseas. So after losing four starters who combined for 40.1 points and 20.1 rebounds per game in 2005, the Liberty rebuilt with …

That's the problem -- not a whole lot. Though Georgia guard Sherill Baker was one of the steals of the draft, on paper, at least, New York's re-tooling for the future has a long way to go. The Liberty obviously are building around All-Star Becky Hammon, but for New York to be truly competitive this season, Hammon won't be enough. Every player beside her in the starting lineup need to have career seasons, an unlikely scenario.

And even if Baker, best known for her defensive prowess, can play the point and allow Hammon to return to her natural position at the 2, that translates into a very small backcourt.

Still, New York's biggest concern is its post game, which is pretty decimated. And really, the front office's decision not to draft a big puts the pressure on 5-foot-11 small forward Shameka Christon. It's time the third-year player steps up and makes an impact. She is long and athletic, averaged 9.1 points last season and appears to have the skills to have a breakout year, especially with so much to make up for now. It will be hard for new Liberty team members Kelly Schumacher (Fever) and Barbara Farris (Detroit) to make as big of an impact as is needed by themselves. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman

What's the best-case scenario for the team? Worst-case?

Best-case: Pat Coyle works some magic around Becky Hammon, turning the sum of some unspectacular parts into a greater whole. Last year's veteran crew wasn't exactly championship caliber, so their young replacements should have only the normal background noise of pressure that comes with playing in New York. If Hammon plays the role of a slightly more selective Allen Iverson, young talents such as small forward Shameka Christon and point guard Loree Moore could settle in as capable secondary options while posts Barbara Farris and Kelly Schumacher eat up a lot of room inside. And rookies Sherill Baker or Christelle N'Garsanet could emerge ahead of schedule, like free-agent find Cathrine Kraayeveld last season.

Worst-case: None of that happens and Hammon is left to fend for herself as the only player really worthy of a starting spot in the WNBA. Or worse yet, Hammon, who takes a pounding on the court, gets hurt. Of the remaining players on the roster, only Schumacher has scored as many as 20 points in a WNBA game, and she's not exactly a proven offensive weapon. If no player from a group that includes returnees Ashley Battle, Kiesha Brown, Erin Thorn and Iciss Tillis steps up as a consistent option, there won't be much of a bench. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays

As the WNBA celebrates its 10-year anniversary, what does this franchise
mean to the league?

The Liberty mean drama. It's been good, it's been bad. No GM in the league inspires as much fan "emotion," shall we say, as Carol Blazejowski does. This particular season, it's pretty difficult to tell just what the Liberty's plan is. And the New York fans have plenty to say on that subject. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel