In a historic moment in franchise history, after eight wins away from bringing home their first WNBA championship, New York Liberty’s General Manager, Jonathan Kolb, has been named the 2023 WNBA Executive of the Year.
The award’s determination was made by a vote of the league’s 12 executives, who were not allowed to vote for themselves. Kolb received six first-place votes, with Dallas’ Greg Bibb and Connecticut’s Daryl Taylor also receiving multiple first-place votes (two each).
Within just one year, the Liberty went from making the playoffs to becoming championship contenders, with New York securing the acquisition of 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and signing 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and seven-time WNBA All-Star Tina Charles in free agency.
With Jones, Stewart, and free agent signings Sabrina Ionescu from the 2020 number 1 draft pick and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney joining the squad, the Liberty has presented themselves as championship contenders, eager to dethrone the current champions, the Las Vegas Aces, whom they had tied 2-2 in the regular season series but fell behind two games in the standings.
Kolb told ESPN this week that the Liberty’s offseason “was a confluence of events that may never happen again,” considering the Liberty was in the midst of their rebuilding process, the availability of players like Jones in the trade market, and unrestricted free agency signings of Stewart and Charles, already considered two perennial greats.
Stewart and Charles were also willing to come to Brooklyn for supermax contracts, which the team has described as part of their collective commitment to winning a championship. The Liberty is the only remaining original franchise in the league yet to capture a WNBA title.
This achievement was a vision Kolb had set out to achieve at the start of last season, and the future looks bright as Kolb ensured that with multi-year contract extensions during the regular season, Ionescu, Laney, and sixth woman of the year Kaila Thornton will return.
Kolb said, “For us, it’s really capitalizing on the moment,” “You prepare for these moments, and you hope it unfolds the way you want, with both the coming of these players, but still, it’s going to be done on the court.”
The Liberty’s 32-8 record showcases their best winning percentage in franchise history (.800), marking a remarkable turnaround considering they were not far removed from a 2-20 campaign in 2020, as Ionescu had to deal with an ankle injury late in her rookie season. The Liberty also defeated the Aces in August in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship, the franchise’s first championship of any kind.
Kolb said, “It’s really a testament to all the continuous and consistent efforts from everyone to stick to the plan,” “Everyone is just like they said they were, and this is the best gift of all.”
The modern success of the Liberty began in 2019 when Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai purchased the historic yet struggling franchise, relocating the team from the Westchester County out of the city. Shortly after, Kolb was brought in to work on relocating the team to Brooklyn, enhancing its relevance in the city, and building a destination franchise with resources previously unavailable to the franchise. WNBA.
Kolb said, “I think the timing is right according to our plan,” “It doesn’t always happen that plans end up exactly the way you envisioned, but it did, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
The Liberty’s second priority received their playoff debut Friday night, hosting the No. 7 seed Washington Mystics at 7:30 p.m. ET.
New York has not won a playoff series since 2015 and last reached the WNBA Finals in 2002. However, the Liberty boasts a roster with plenty of deep championship experience; Stewart won titles in 2018 and 2020 (both years she was named Finals MVP), while Charles won in 2021, and Jones was part of two Finals runs in 2019 and 2022.
Kolb said, “You have a lot of playoff experience overall, especially within our core group,” “They know what the mission is, and they’re ready to attack it together.”