Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb says team is ‘close’ to reaching greatness
Before the start of the 2023 season, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb spoke about his goals after overhauling the roster by pulling off huge offseason signings and executing a blockbuster trade.
Kolb, of course, said he had his sights set on winning the franchise’s first WNBA title in its 27-year history. He mentioned in early May that championships aren’t won “in the preseason,” and that he had a vision of what the team would look like at peak form in order to achieve that elusive piece of hardware.
On Monday night, after his team won the season series against the Las Vegas Aces following a 94-85 victory, Kolb said the team is “close” to the vision he alluded to in the offseason.
“I think it really is coming together,” the GM said. “It’s close to getting where we want to be. Now… we just need consistency.”
Kolb pointed out certain instances on-court that have overwhelmed opponents to the point where opposing head coaches are left puzzled on how to defeat the Liberty at peak form.
He talked about Breanna Stewart delivering MVP-like performances, like in her 45-point, record-breaking home debut against the Fever and her 38-point outing in just 27 minutes played against the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday.
Betnijah Laney’s dominant play on both sides of the floor is also part of Kolb’s vision. Laney held 2022 WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray to 16 points on Monday night while shooting an inefficient 3-for-13 from the field. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate is a key fixture in the Liberty rotation and is asked to take on the opposing team’s best guard each night. The defensive effort doesn’t slow down her offensive production either. She scored 17 points on 50% shooting from the field on Monday as a tertiary option.
The GM mentioned Sabrina Ionescu stepping up in big moments, like her elite sharpshooting Monday night and in the Liberty’s first blowout victory of the Aces this season. In wins against the defending champions — not including the 2023 Commissioner’s Cup — Ionescu shot 11-for-20 from downtown and recorded 56 points. Then, Kolb made sure to mention Jonquel Jones’ double-doubles that have been a recurring theme post-All-Star break.
Head coach Becky Hammon and the Aces neutralized Jones in Monday’s matchup. The center dealt with foul trouble while finishing with four points and 10 rebounds.
But everyone else stepped up and that’s exactly what Kolb envisioned when putting this team together: having so many options that it’s almost impossible to contain the total firepower on any given night. Besides Jones, the entire starting lineup scored at least 17 points. Marine Johannes and Stefanie Dolson combined for 11 points off the bench while Kayla Thornton was a plus-9 in her 18 minutes playing as a defensive specialist.
“That’s the vision. You make this so difficult — so that a team takes one, two, three players to solve [our key players] as well as the bench.”
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The team getting “close” to what Kolb envisions at this point of the season could be fruitful. It gives the Liberty a realistic shot at chasing down the Aces for the No. 1 overall seed in the standings. Las Vegas entered Tuesday 1.5 games ahead of New York in the standings. Unfortunately for the Liberty, they own a tougher schedule to end the season. The Liberty’s last five games are against teams that average a .508 winning percentage while the Aces’ final four opponents’ own a .321 winning percentage.
But Sandy Brondello’s team is peaking at the right time to end the season, which is similar to her 2014 Phoenix Mercury team that won the title.
“She’s great at forming relationships with players and instilling trust in players,” Kolb said about Brondello. The GM added that Brondello possesses the skills of knowing when “there needs to be a sense of urgency,” and knowing “the right chords to play” throughout a long season.
With the players healthy and no overseas duties left for them to fulfill, the Liberty are primed for a deep postseason run. The team has lost just three times in the last 18 games and are the only squad to beat the defending champs multiple times this season.
Kolb hopes his team continues that positive play this fall, when they have a chance to fulfill his offseason vision.
“There’s so much more to do. We won a regular season game [on Monday]. That’s awesome,” he said. “It was against a very good basketball team. I think this is a game where maybe two months ago, we could say ‘I don’t know if we win this game.’”
“There’s something really special about this team,” Kolb added. “They’re really united. I’m excited to get to the postseason, but we’re not done.”