As the New York Liberty search for their next head coach, could the franchise turn to one of the WNBA’s greatest of all time to take over on the sidelines?
On December 6, 2021, the Liberty announced that the organization had “initiated a search for a new head coach, following a decision by Walt Hopkins & management to part ways.”
“We thank Walt for his spirit & commitment over the last two seasons, in which the team developed 3 WNBA All-Rookie Team members & Rookie of the Year,” the team wrote.
The news sent shockwaves through the WNBA world, considering Hopkins’ quick tenure with the team, the wealth of talent on the roster, and the team’s playoff berth in 2021.
However, after a 12-20 campaign that ended in an early postseason exit, the Liberty decided it was time for a change as the WNBA prepares for an overhauled playoff format in 2022.
The basketball coaching scene has taken all sort of turns over the years, with players-turned-coaches like Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and more leading big-name teams with little-to-no experience on the sidelines.
Gone are the days where someone needs to grind through the coaching ranks at the collegiate and professional levels to land a high-profile job. Nowadays, franchises are willing to take risks if they feel the fit is right.
If the Liberty wants to roll with a similar approach, one name sticks out as a potentially-perfect answer: Sue Bird.
A four-time WNBA champion and 12-time WNBA All-Star, Bird would bring loads of experience to the role, both as a coach and as a mentor for Sabrina Ionescu, the first overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
She has played for the Seattle Storm ever since she was drafted with the first overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, but question marks loom around her on-the-court future following the Storm’s second-round loss in the 2021 WNBA Playoffs.
Should she choose to hang up her shoes ahead of the 2022 season, Bird could head home to New York to lead her home state’s WNBA franchise.
Similar to Billups with the Portland Trail Blazers or Nash with the Brooklyn Nets, Bird doesn’t have a crazy resume to work with from a coaching perspective. But, it’s tough to argue with the WNBA’s all-time assists leader, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, and a two-time NCAA champion.
She has the respect of her peers, and has name recognition for even the casual basketball fan. Add in the major sports market that the Liberty are in and Ionescu’s popularity (she led WNBA jersey sales in 2021), and it could be a dream scenario for the franchise amid an important time in the WNBA’s illustrious history.
It would serve as an opportunity for Bird to stick around the league for years to come, and could even help lead the Liberty to their first title in franchise history.
The Liberty need stability at the helm, considering just three coaches in the franchise’s 25-year history have lasted more than two seasons. Only two of those coaches, Bill Laimbeer from 2013 to 2017 and Richie Adubato from 1998-2004, had overall records above .500 throughout their tenures.
Bringing in a legend like Bird could be the type of move that changes that unfortunate trend, potentially shaping the course of the entire league’s future in the process.