Written By: Azarr Johnson
For the 2019 season, the Liberty finished 10-24, fifth place in the division and with the number one pick. It was the second straight season, they finished under .500 and had the top five pick in the draft. Even though it is an overall reflection on the coaching of Katie Smith, it was not entirely her fault, their was a lot of blame to go around, for the drop of competitive play and success that we are accustomed to seeing from the Liberty. When Bill Laimbeer left the franchise to go coach Aja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces, the Katie Smith era begin. It was supposed to be a continuation of success, a bridge of familiarity, a relationship/culture that the players would not have to endure much change, but it was anything but that, for coach Smiths first year.
It was a season of many obstacles and difficulties, looking back and even during the difficult times, it was not a surprise of the teams struggles that season, as they were facing uphill battles, before they even stepped onto the court. First the team was moved from playing in Madison Square Garden to the Westchester County Arena, which did not go over well with the fans and even though the players did not admit it and only showed concern about fan attendance, it was not the ideal place to be playing in NY. Not to mention, it was a clear indication that the owner was not backing the team anymore and that took a toll on the team itself. The energy of not knowing the teams future, spilled onto the court as in the months of June, they went 3-9, July they went 3-7 and in August they were win less, going 0-9. The team ended the season on a 13 game losing streak and they finished the season 7-27, fifth place overall and second to last in the conference. The only bright spot for the team to end the season and to build on the following, was that Tina Charles was still playing at a high level, averaging 19 points a game.
The bad news was that Kia Nurse, who they drafted high in the first round from the UConn machine and did not play bad, but still was not an instant contributor to the team to get them wins and the franchise over the hump, in other words not a franchise player. In the off season, the Liberty had new ownership as Joseph Tsai purchased the team and brought in anew GM Joseph Kolb (Their first year was a rocky one), many thought that Tsai would move the team back into Gotham City (Brooklyn, NY), but he kept the team in Westchester and they retained Katie Smith as the coach. Even with the new ownership, you could see it was going to take time to turn this team around from the previous season/disappointment. Going into the off season, the Liberty needed to make moves/add pieces to improve their team and get Tina Charles some help, those needs were not addressed.
The following season did not get any better, they went into the WNBA draft with the second pick and what with many felt dropped the ball on this also. They selected Louisville guard Asia Durr to an already heavily loaded back court with Brittany Boyd, Tanisha Wright and Bria Hartley. What made thatpick even more suspect, was the fact of all the other skilled/talent that was picked/drafted after Durr (Tearia McCowan, Kate Lou Samuelson, Arike Ogunbowale, Napheesa Collier and Kalani Brown). Their second round pick Han Xu who never saw the floor, did not seem to have chemistry with her teammates and now when you look back it, it might have just have been a PR move. Meghan Huff, although a young, gifted talented player, did not make the team. When the preseason started, how the team played, gave you a preview of the struggles that were coming down the line, going into the season. Asia Durr did not look comfortable at all on the floor, you could tell it was going to take time for her to adjust.
Tina Charles, the leader and best option on the floor, seemed a step slower and Kia Nurse did not seem to be making an impact, that she was expected to make at this point, in her second year. Once the season started, these concerns, turned into a reality. The Liberty started the season 0-4, but finished the month 5-7. The sad part of that statistic was that it was the most wins, the Liberty had in a month for the whole season. After the month of June, it did not not get any better, as they only produced three wins in July finishing 3-4 and only producing one win for the months of August (1-11) and September (1-2). For the season, it was pretty much, was the same story line, mostly every game,either the Liberty would get off to a fast start, but then would lose it in the second half or they would fall so far behind in the first half, that they use all their energy catching up. When they finally came within a few points of taking the lead or tying the game, they would lose steam from putting all their effort into getting back into a game.
As if the way the season was going, was not rough enough, to add insult to injury, their first round draft pick Asia Durr missed 16 games, due to injury and one of their best defensive players (Kia Stokes), did not play the whole season, due to her commitment overseas. When the season was over, the Liberty had finished with a 10-24 record and the only bright spots, that they had to build off of in the off season, was that they surpassed their win total from last season of seven to ten wins and they had the #1 draft pick for the 2020 season. It was clear that after another underacheiving season and the question of where they were going to play their future home games,that changes were going to be made.