New York’s running it back with Stewie, JJ

WNBA

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While it’s been an exciting free agency period around the WNBA in general, for the New York Liberty it’s been… quiet.

As of Feb. 1, teams could officially sign players to their rosters for the 2024 season. But the landscape of free agents, plus salary cap implications, have stopped the Liberty from announcing any big moves.

Regardless, New York’s moves are pretty predictable. They are hoping to build a team to contend with the Las Vegas Aces after losing to them in the WNBA Finals last season. Plus, with teams like the Seattle Storm, Connecticut Sun and Phoenix Mercury bulking up, the Liberty must be prepared for a league with more parity.

New York made key moves before free agency

The Liberty started building their longterm team building last season. They extended Sabrina Ionescu for another two seasons, which means she is under contract until the 2026 WNBA season. They also extended Kayla Thornton after she contributed greatly to the team’s success; she also is under a protected contract until the 2026 season. Courtney Vandersloot signed a two-year protected contract when she decided to come to the New York Liberty last offseason, so she is locked in for this season as well. Betnijah Laney was the last extension of 2023, signing a two-year protected contract that, again, takes her to the 2026 season.

That left Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones as the team’s two biggest free agents. The team decided to place the core designation on Breanna Stewart, meaning they control her negotiating rights—a completely expected move.

Liberty fans wait for official news about Stewie, JJ

The only inked moves the Liberty have made in the free agency period have been rookie and training camp contracts.

They’ve signed Stephanie Mawuli, Ivana Dojkić and Brianna Fraser to training camp contracts. Okako Adika and Leonie Fiebich were signed to rookie scale contracts. These deals all essentially mean that these players will come to the Liberty’s training camp but are not assured a spot on the final roster, unlike those with protected contracts. The difference between rookie scale and training camp contracts is how much the player gets paid, as well as the ability to retain their signing rights. If New York keeps Adika and Fiebich long term, they are on four-year deals with the team. If they get waived, they can go sign higher-scale deals with other teams.

As for Stewart and Jones, no official deals have been announced yet. It can be assumed that the delay is due to the players waiting to see if the Liberty can sign any more big free agents. Since the WNBA has a hard salary cap, high-salary players will often take pay cuts or adjust their salary expectations in order to bring in other players.

It’s pretty safe to assume both Stewart and Jones will end up signing one-year contracts with the Liberty, but it’s hard to tell when. Most of the big free agents have been claimed, but you never know what’s in the pipeline for trades and other big moves.

With the league’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire after this season, big-time players like Stewart and Jones likely will not sign more than one-year contracts, giving them leverage heading into negotiations. This also gives them the choice to explore their options every season as the landscape of women’s sports, and the WNBA in particular, changes rapidly.

No Marine or Nneka in NY in 2024

One absence on the Liberty this season will be Marine Johannès. The French national player will not be playing in the WNBA this season due to overseas and national team commitments. The Liberty decided to reserve and retain her contract rights in hopes she will return to the WNBA in 2025.

The team also pursued Nneka Ogwumike in free agency, but she decided to sign with the Seattle Storm. With the prolonged wait for Stewart and Jones to sign, it seems like the Liberty may still be playing the field before solidifying their 2024 training camp roster.

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