New York Liberty: 2006 Preview
In the city that doesn't sleep, fans of the New York Liberty can lie awake wondering what happened to all of their players.
Vickie Johnson gone. Elena Baranova gone. Ann Wauters gone. Crystal Robinson gone. That's four starters - representing 40.1 points and 20.1 rebounds per game - who vacated the premises in exchange for (drum roll) NOTHING! Ouch.
Johnson (San Antonio) and Robinson (Washington) both signed contracts elsewhere, while Baranova and Wauters elected to stay overseas. Throw in the retirement of La'Kiesha Frett and the loss of DeTrina White in the expansion draft, and that's six players who departed without compensation to the Liberty.
Needless to say, no team will overcome a bigger challenge this year than New York, which will begin the season with no more than five players from last year's roster. Fortunately one of those players is Becky Hammon.
One of the team's most popular players, and the longest tenured now that Johnson has departed, Hammon is one of the WNBA's premier shooters. Hammon led her team in points (13.9) and assists (4.3) last season for the second straight year.
Hammon has only been a full-time starter for two seasons, but her 88 starts are almost as many as the rest of the training camp roster combined (102). She will carry a heavy burden, particularly if she is playing the point.
The Liberty are counting on Shameka Christon's name flashing on the Madison Square Garden marquee. Christon, a 5-11 small forward, was the team's first-round pick (fifth overall) in 2004. She had a breakout season with 9.1 points in only 23.8 minutes per game in 2005, and has the opportunity to greatly improve those numbers in 2006.
Three other returnees, 6-4 forward Cathrine Kraayeveld and guards Loree Moore and Erin Thorn, are green, and only Moore was a first-round pick (2005). Nevertheless, Kraayeveld and Moore began the preseason as starters and will assume larger roles, ready or not. Kraayeveld tuned up for the season in the NWBL, where she averaged 19.3 points and a league-leading 8.9 rebounds.
The Liberty acquired 6-5 center Kelly Schumacher from Indiana and signed 6-3 forward Barbara Farris, formerly of Detroit. Both provide size and experience, but neither is a prolific scorer. Iciss Tillis, 2004 first-round pick of Detroit, and Ashley Battle, a 2005 second-round pick of Seattle, were also signed.
It isn't a group that will put fear into the WNBA's best teams, but it is a a group that's younger, faster and more athletic than previous Liberty teams, which will aide the team as the WNBA begins the 24-second (down from 30) shot clock era, increasing the game's tempo.
going to play a lot quicker than we have played," Head Coach Pat Coyle told
the Assocaiated Press. "We're going to press a lot more. We have the personnel
that can play the way we want to."
"Sherill Baker is one those very special players that has the potential to have an immediate impact not only on the Liberty, but on the entire league," said Carol Blazejowski, the team's Senior Vice President and General Manager.
The Liberty addressed its depth up front with two additional picks, selecting 6-2 forward Brooke Queenan and 6-3 center Christelle N'Garsanet.
The first decade has been good to the Liberty, a team that has appeared in four WNBA Finals in their first nine seasons. It won't end with a fifth, though. The mass exodus forced a rebuilding project that will take a little time to complete.