Liberty hire Sandy Brondello as head coach with free agency on horizon

The New York Liberty announced Sandy Brondello as the franchise's new head coach on Friday after reports of the partnership surfaced last week. Brondello, who parted ways with the Phoenix Mercury after eight years and a WNBA Finals berth in 2021, will take over a team on the rise behind Betnijah Laney and superstar Sabrina Ionescu.

Brondello, the Australian national team coach, is a 17-year WNBA coaching veteran who led the Mercury to the title in 2014. She was named the Coach of the Year the same season. Phoenix reached the playoffs every year of her tenure, including in 2021 as the No. 5 seed. The Mercury ran it all the way to the finals, where they fell in four games to the No. 6 seed Chicago Sky.

The Liberty, one of the league's founding franchises, have never won a championship. They are in the last two years of Ionescu's rookie contract with Laney and center Natasha Howard signed through 2023.

“It is an honor to join the historic New York Liberty franchise and to coach and lead such a talented roster of players,” Brondello said in a team statement. “I owe immense gratitude to the team’s ownership and front office for entrusting me with this important role during such an integral time in the history of the organization. Alongside my family, I’m excited to move to New York City and begin preparations for our upcoming season.”

The Liberty parted ways with head coach Walt Hopkins after two years. The Liberty snuck into the playoffs last season as the No. 8 seed, taking the Mercury to the brink in a first-round, single-elimination matchup. It followed a disastrous 2020 wubble season for the Liberty and Hopkins went 14-40 in his two seasons at the helm.

First steps for Brondello in New York

Sandy Brondello
Australia's head coach Sandy Brondello will take over in New York with the pieces to build a champion roster. (Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images)

The official announcement comes eight days before free agency officially begins. Players can begin talking to teams on Jan. 15 in what is likely to be one of the biggest free agency periods in WNBA history. Four MVPs are unrestricted free agents with other big names also looking around.

The Liberty have much of their roster signed to rookie contracts following their massive 2020 draft that started at No. 1 with Ionescu. But the point guard has been hampered by an ankle injury in her two-year professional career.

Brondello and the front office's first decisions will involve Rebecca Allen and Reshanda Gray, both of whom are unrestricted free agents. The team has $196,560 in cap room and Allen played on a $105,037 deal in 2021, per Her Hoop Stats.

Liberty's identity likely to adjust

Consistency will be key for the Liberty, who open the season at home on Saturday, May 7 against the Connecticut Sun. And having a been-there, done-that leader will be a big boost for a roster heavy on young players. Hopkins was a young coach in his first head coaching position. Brondello is a proven winner who currently ranks 10th on the all-time WNBA wins list.

Both sides of the ball will need to see improvements. New York averaged a third-worst 78.5 points per game last season, better than only the Indiana Fever and Los Angeles Sparks.

The team under Hopkins built its identity around 3-point shooting and when it was on, it was all well and good. But when it wasn't their night, or defenses shut down the perimeter, it became frustrating for fans to watch. The Liberty averaged a league-high 27.7 3s per game, averaging 10 makes for a 36.2 clip that ranked third behind the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces.

Defensively, they ranked last allowing 85.5 points to opponents as they turned the ball over a league-worst 16.2 times per game on average. The Liberty were near the bottom of the league in rebounding (33.3 rpg), steals (6.1 spg) and blocks (3.6 bpg).