A very busy Monday during the WNBA offseason ended with two vacant head coach positions. First, we learned that Walt Hopkins was the head coach of New York Liberty after two seasons. Hours later, the Phoenix Mercury announced that Sandy Brondello was out after eight seasons as she had just led her team to the WNBA Finals.
The Liberties have just finished a 12-20 season in which they clinched the last place in the playoffs. There are some good building blocks to work with in New York City, including forwards Natasha Howard and 2021 Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere, wing Betnijah Laney and guard Sabrina Ionescu.
The Liberty and the Mercury are both original WNBA franchises, dating back to the league’s inception in 1997. The Liberty entered the league affiliated with the Knicks organization, but is now with the Brooklyn Nets under owner Joseph Tsai, who hired Hopkins in January 2020. New York has never won a championship.
Phoenix has won three WNBA titles, the most recent in 2014, which was Brondello’s first season as a Mercury coach. She led Phoenix to the playoffs in her eight seasons, but with Diana Taurasi at 39 and Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith both 31, a window is closing. The Mercury fell 3-1 to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA final in October.
A coaching position has already been filled in the offseason, as former WNBA player Tanisha Wright took over the Atlanta Dream after serving as an assistant to the Las Vegas Aces. What will Liberty and Mercury look for in their hires? We are looking at a few possible candidates.
New York freedom
Teresa Weatherspoon: The former Liberty Guard is arguably the most popular player in franchise history, competing in New York City from 1997 to 2003. She also worked for Liberty as a coach and front office, and is now a coach. NBA New Orleans Pelicans assistant.
The Hall of Fame has a background as a head coach, having led their alma mater, Louisiana Tech, in the women’s hoops from 2009 to 2014, ranging from 99 to 71. As a player, Weatherspoon led Louisiana Tech to the championship National 1988.
If Weatherspoon was interested in returning to the WNBA, that would seem like the most perfect fit for her, and Liberty fans would be very excited about it.
Sandy Brondello: Brondello might not be out of work for a long time. If New York is looking for someone with a lot of playoff experience and a history of talent development, it fits the bill for both. Brondello is also the coach of the Australian national team, which provides a Liberty connection: Opals player Rebecca Allen is on the New York roster, as is naturalized Australian Sami Whitcomb.
Remember when Connecticut split from coach Mike Thibault after the 2012 season and the Washington Mystics recruited him? It paid off big with the 2019 championship. Maybe the same will happen with Brondello and the Liberty.
Sue Bird: No, she hasn’t announced her retirement as a player, so we’re taking a flyer here. Considering Bird’s incredible playing career with the Storm, Seattle is as much his home as New York. But she is from Long Island. So maybe the challenge of trying to lead Liberty to their first title – not to mention the first professional basketball title for the Big Apple since the Knicks won the 1973 NBA Championship – could be alluring.
Bird was never a coach – she worked with the Denver Nuggets front office – but the playmaker has long been the ultimate coach on the pitch.
Becky Hammon: We’re taking another flyer here, given that Hammon has a long-standing position as an assistant to the San Antonio Spurs and has said his goal is to be the head coach of the NBA. In his eighth season with the Spurs, Hammon’s salary is estimated at $ 750,000, more than double what some WNBA coaches would earn.
So the Liberty might not be able to attract him in any capacity. However, like Weatherspoon, Hammon was an extremely popular player with the Liberty from 1999 to 2006 before being traded to San Antonio. It sounds like a long time, but if a WNBA franchise could get Hammon, it would probably be New York.
Brian Agler: A highly successful former WNBA coach, Agler has won titles with Seattle (2010) and Los Angeles (2016). He recently coached the Dallas Wings in 2019. Agler is now in varsity sports administration at his alma mater, the University of Wittenberg in Ohio, but he hasn’t closed the door upon his return to the school. ‘coaching.
Pokey Chatman: The former Sky and Indiana Fever coach has a ton of experience both in the WNBA and overseas. Mercury players all know her, and that would give her a chance to win a WNBA championship, one of the things she has yet to accomplish.
Lindsey Harding: The former WNBA goaltender is now in her third season as an assistant coach with the NBA Sacramento Kings. She previously worked with the Philadelphia 76ers and might be looking for a chance to become a head coach.
Latricia Trammell: Assistant of the Los Angeles Sparks, she is known as a defensive magician. Previously, she was an assistant for the WNBA in San Antonio, and before that, she was a longtime head coach and assistant at the college and high school levels. She won two NAIA National Championships as Oklahoma City’s head coach in 2014 and 2015.