Commentary

Breaking down the New York Liberty

Originally Published: May 21, 2013
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

Cappie Pondexter Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesCappie Pondexter averaged 20.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg and 1.3 spg last season in New York.

Bill Laimbeer is back, and New York has him. The Liberty, one of the WNBA's original franchises, has knocked on the door but never won the league championship. Now, that's Laimbeer's mission as coach/general manager. It doesn't seem that likely to happen this season, but the playoffs might be a reasonable goal.

Laimbeer's three championships at Detroit -- before the Shock relocated to Tulsa -- were built on strong defensive teams that also had an outstandingly athletic star guard. That was Deanna Nolan in Detroit; it's Cappie Pondexter in New York.

When Laimbeer left the WNBA during the 2009 season to pursue his coaching career in the NBA, he might have thought he'd never come back. Things didn't work for whatever reason, and the Liberty job was enough of an enticement for him.

He already has put a Detroit-like touch on the Liberty by luring his former post player Cheryl Ford back to the league after a three-year absence. He also signed guard Katie Smith, who was part of two of his three title teams. He got back the rights to Nolan in a three-way trade involving Tulsa and Minnesota, although she's not expected to play in the WNBA this season.

Also, former Detroit players who were already with the Liberty -- posts Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton -- are back. And he re-signed guard Essence Carson, who has spent her five-year WNBA career with the Liberty and seems like a Laimbeer-type player with her size and physicality on defense.

What's new?

Bone
Bone
Laimbeer had a very good draft, with first-round selections Kelsey Bone and Toni Young. Bone is a true center who should thrive in the pro game. Young is a 6-foot-2 jumping jack who is still a raw talent but has a great deal of potential.

Laimbeer has enlisted other WNBA veterans who played for the Liberty to be his assistants or advisers. Those are Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Barb Farris, Tamika Whitmore and Teresa Weatherspoon. In that way, the "old" is new again at New York and can help instill a sense of the franchise's history within the younger players. The best of that history is worth preserving.

What's missing?

Gone in trades are forward Nicole Powell (now in Tulsa) and center Kia Vaughn (now in Washington). Veteran forward DeMya Walker, 35, is not in the league this season.

Biggest challenges

Former coach John Whisenant was able to lead the Liberty to the playoffs in his two seasons in New York, but they lost in the East semifinals both times. Laimbeer, with control as GM and coach, is putting together the kind of team he wants. But will some of the older players, such as Smith (39 in June) and Ford (who's 32 in June, but has "old" knees), be able to contribute enough?

Playoff prospects

If Laimbeer's chemistry experiment works and Pondexter (20.4 ppg in 2012) is at her best, New York could get a postseason berth.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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