- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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One thing you'd never call Bill Laimbeer is a sentimentalist. His Liberty team might have familiar faces from his days as Detroit's coach. But that's only because he thinks those players can help New York now. The past is past. He's thinking of the future.
With that in mind, it has been a very busy week for Laimbeer, who is preparing for his first season with the Liberty.
• Monday, New York re-signed Essence Carson and picked up fellow guard Katie Smith, who spent the past two seasons in Seattle.
• Wednesday, the Liberty traded post player Kia Vaughn and the No. 17 pick in April's draft to Washington for the No. 7 selection.
• Friday, the Liberty were part of a three-team trade involving Minnesota and Tulsa. New York got the Nos. 15 and 27 picks in the upcoming draft, plus the rights to former Detroit guard Deanna Nolan. She hasn't played in the WNBA since the franchise moved to Tulsa.
Laimbeer said he isn't really optimistic that Nolan, 33, will play this season in New York. But if she does, it will be for the coach with whom she won three titles in Detroit.
Tulsa got forward Nicole Powell from New York and guard Candice Wiggins from Minnesota, plus the No. 29 pick in the draft. The Lynx got forward Janel McCarville from the Liberty and a 2014 second-round draft pick from the Shock.
• Next week, the Liberty are expected to re-sign center Kara Braxton and likely will also bring aboard post player Cheryl Ford. Like Nolan, Ford hasn't played in the WNBA since the 2009 season, after which the Shock relocated to Oklahoma. Her rights were released by Tulsa a couple of years ago, and she actually considered signing with the Liberty in 2011. Now, with Laimbeer having replaced John Whisenant at the New York helm, it appears it will happen.
So … that's a lot to take in. We'll delve more deeply into all the Liberty's moves, but let's also examine what Friday meant for Minnesota and Tulsa.
A day after the University of Minnesota upset Penn State in women's hoops, the Golden Gopher fans got the news that former standout McCarville will be coming "home" and joining former college teammate Lindsay Whalen. Minneapolis isn't actually where J-Mac is from, but it's relatively close to her home in Wisconsin.
McCarville, the league's No. 1 draft pick in 2005, opted to skip the 2011 and '12 WNBA seasons because she preferred to spend her summers closer to home. Laimbeer said he talked with her about that and understood her desire to be nearer to her family.
The Lynx see McCarville, 30, fitting well into their roster, both on offense and defense. Plus, if her return to Minneapolis is anywhere near as productive as Whalen has been, the Lynx will benefit a lot.
As for Tulsa, the Shock now have quite a Stanford connection, with former Cardinal players Powell, Wiggins and Kayla Pedersen, whom they drafted in 2011. Powell (Sacramento 2005) and Wiggins (Minnesota 2011) both have won WNBA titles. The Shock also have the No. 3 pick in the draft and might get Notre Dame star point guard Skylar Diggins, who is close friends with Wiggins.
Whether Tulsa will improve enough to actually contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Laimbeer thinks New York is on the right path to the top. The Liberty are used to making it to the playoffs; they've done so 12 of their 16 seasons. But they haven't reached the WNBA finals since 2002. The last two years under Whisenant, they lost in the first round.
Laimbeer understands that Liberty fans want something to look forward to, a feeling that the organization is thinking big, a belief that a plan is in place to get New York its first WNBA title.
Laimbeer said that Vaughn requested her trade. But dealing her also helped give the Liberty more maneuverability with their salary cap, as did trading Powell.
"That's to make sure we have really good flexibility not only for this year, but for next year and the year after," Laimbeer said. "So then we're able to participate in anything that comes our way that could be beneficial -- whether it's a free-agency situation or another trade. There are lots of opportunities going forward, we think, to get the kind of players that will be championship material."
While one former Rutgers player moves on from New York -- Vaughn should help coach Mike Thibault in Washington -- another, Carson, is staying put. Her size and ability to defend are huge pluses for her to do well in Laimbeer's system.
"And she's dependable. She plays very hard and tough," Laimbeer said. "What's intriguing for our team is that defensively, she can guard a lot of people. And I like good rebounding guards. Offensively, first we need to better define what her role is. I don't think that she's had that in the last few years."
As for Smith, who will turn 39 in June, Laimbeer joked, "Really? I thought it was 29. That must have been a misprint!"
Seriously, he's bringing in Smith for leadership and experience and because she knows him so well. Smith was still in Minnesota when Laimbeer and the Shock won their first title in 2003, but then he traded for her and made Smith a key player on the 2006 and '08 Detroit title teams.
If Ford comes aboard with the Liberty, she'll join Smith, Braxton and Plenette Pierson as former Detroit players now playing again for Laimbeer.
"The bottom line is, these players know how to win," Laimbeer said, "how to conduct themselves in practice and in the games."
In April's draft, the Liberty's choices at Nos. 5 and 7 might depend partly on whether Texas A&M junior Kelsey Bone -- who is in her fourth year of school and eligible to go to the WNBA -- opts to enter the draft. One would expect if she does, she'll be picked in the top five.
"I believe that to grow the franchise to where we need it to get to," Laimbeer said, "draft picks 5 and 7, playing with some of the veteran players we're accumulating, will get an intense education.
"Comparing this draft to others in the past, I think the star power pretty much remains the same. But this year has quality depth. I'm not saying that there are a lot of instant big contributors, but there are players that can help."
18dBonnie D. Ford