The New York Liberty have made it so Breanna Stewart — their star player and 2023 WNBA MVP — must remain on their team for at least two more seasons.
On Friday, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb announced via ESPN that the Liberty intend to designate Stewart — who was set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason — as a "core player," meaning that Stewart will no longer be an unrestricted free agent. Once the Liberty officially give the "core player" tag to Stewart, she can either sign a core qualifying offer (a one-year supermax contract) or negotiate different terms with the Liberty. Either way, she can no longer sign a contract directly with another team.
Stewart doesn't seem upset with this core player designation. In the ESPN article, Stewart is quoted saying she is "excited for what we're doing here in New York" and "looking forward to doing it for many years to come."
'I'm looking forward to doing it for many years to come.'
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) October 20, 2023
Designating Stewart as a core player is the Liberty's first move to keep their 2023 roster — which made it to the WNBA Finals — mostly intact. Along with Stewart, fellow Liberty forward and former WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones is also set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. While New York can't put a core player tag on Jones because they've already done so once with her, they hope that Jones — who is "definitely trending towards coming back [to New York]" — will re-sign with their squad.
As for Stewart, she didn't have the postseason success she'd expected. After averaging 23 points per game and shooting 35.5% from 3-point range during the 2023 regular season, Stewart's 2023 postseason averages dropped to 18.3 points per game and 19.6% from behind the 3-point arc.
Playoff struggles aside, Stewart is a generational talent and inarguably one of the WNBA's two best players. With Stewart returning to the Liberty roster — which will also include Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot, Betnijah Laney and likely Jones — next season, New York already has an excellent chance at returning to the WNBA Finals in 2024.
Whether they'll be able to beat the Las Vegas Aces dynasty once they get there is a different story.
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