The Liberty's Lost Season

Ending the regular season with 13 straight losses, the New York Liberty have big decisions to make in the offseason.

For the last three years, the Liberty had been one of the best teams in the WNBA. They had 20+ wins and were first in the East every season since 2015. They rode a wave of stellar play from former MVP and Rookie of the Year Tina Charles and had one of the best defenses in the league.

But everything changed this season. Everything has fallen apart. They were eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago and have ended the season on a 13-game losing streak. With a record of 7-27, they finish just one game ahead of the last-place Indiana Fever, and with the worst regular season record in team history.

Tina Charles, as I have written before, is still the most important player on the Liberty. She was the only player on the team to average more than 9 points per game and have a PER above 15. She had been the glue of this team the past five years, but she couldn't hold it all together alone this season. Epiphanny Prince, Shavonte Zellous, and Marissa Coleman all missed significant time throughout the season. There was simply not enough consistency from anyone else on the team this year. Were injuries a part of the problem? Yes, but you can't put all the blame of a 7-27 record on injuries.

Even when the starting five was healthy enough to play, the results were often less than expected. The team finished 2018 ranked 10th in defense and 11th in offense. The past three years, the Liberty were never great offensively, and they only continued to stagnate on the offensive end this year. However, the Liberty were one of the top three defenses the past three seasons, so the move to the bottom fourth of the league hurt them the most. I cannot explain where this team's defensive prowess or mentality went this season; I can only say it was far worse than what I hoped for at the beginning of the year.

Despite all the turmoil the franchise had during the past year with ownership (from the possibility of being sold, to moving from Madison Square Garden to Westchester), I still expected this team to play just as well as they had in seasons past. I don't know whether or not the off-the-court issues have had any real impact on the team's performance, but the drama did not go unnoticed by the fans, the media, and around the league. Both NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders recently discussed the Liberty's controversial move from Madison Square Garden to Westchester in an article by Geoff Magliocchetti. Borders and Silver both compared the arena to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Duke Blue Devils play. Silver went on to claim that the arena in Westchester is a great venue, stating, "there's not a bad ticket in the arena." This optimism appears to contradict the opinions of fans who have shared their obstructed views of the court across social media. But like injuries, I can't blame this team's free fall simply on the fact that the team moved from one of the most famous sports venues of all-time to a D-League arena far away from most of their fans. I only have to look down the roster and see all the question marks I have about this team, regardless of injuries or where they are playing.

One of the biggest questions at the beginning of the season was the lack of star players on the roster outside of Charles. And the painful reality of that lack of star power clearly manifested itself in the overall performance of the team. As former stars like Prince and Zellous decline at the tail end of their careers, the team will need to look to its younger players like Amanda Zahui B., Kiah Stokes, and Brittany Boyd for more output on both ends of the floor. Kia Nurse had a roller coaster, up-and-down rookie year, but she does offer hope for a team that desperately needs a new star to rise alongside Charles. The Liberty need to look towards next season and hope that first-year head coach Katie Smith can somehow turn it around, get this team to play together, and get back to a winning record. If they hope to keep Charles in New York, they are going to have to make moves in the off-season to assure Charles that she has the players around her that are going to help get the Liberty back into the playoffs and back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

That is the biggest question heading into the off-season for New York: Will Tina Charles want to stay, or will she choose to seek greener pastures elsewhere? She has shown her love and support for her hometown of New York in the past, but you have to wonder when the desire to win starts to outweigh loyalty. Will Charles be willing to stick around if the team doesn't make the off-season moves to make itself more competitive? Or does Charles trust her teammates enough to stay even if there isn't much roster turnover? Only time will tell. As for the 2018 season? The end couldn't have come soon enough.

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