A very busy Monday in the WNBA offseason ended with two head coaching vacancies. First came the news that Walt Hopkins was out as the New York Liberty‘s head coach after two seasons. A few hours later, the Phoenix Mercury announced Sandy Brondello was out after eight seasons, despite having just led her team to the WNBA Finals.
The Liberty are coming off a 12-20 season in which they nabbed the last spot in the playoffs. There are good building blocks to work with in New York, 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 to the league’s beginning in 1997. The Liberty came into the league affiliated with the Knicks organization, but now are 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 Mercury coach. She led Phoenix to the playoffs in all eight of her seasons, but with Diana Taurasi at age 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 Finals in October.
One coaching position already has been filled in the offseason, as former WNBA player Tanisha Wright took over the Atlanta Dream after being an assistant with the Las Vegas Aces. What will the Liberty and Mercury be looking for in their hires? We take a look at some possible candidates.
New York Liberty
Teresa Weatherspoon: The former Liberty guard is probably the most popular player in franchise history, competing in New York from 1997-2003. She also worked for the Liberty in a coaching and front office capacity, and is now an assistant coach with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
The Hall of Famer has head coaching experience, having led her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, in women’s hoops from 2009-2014, going 99-71. As a player, Weatherspoon led Louisiana Tech to the 1988 national championship.
If Weatherspoon was interested in returning to the WNBA, this would seem like the most perfect fit for her, and Liberty fans would be very enthusiastic about it.
Sandy Brondello: Brondello might not be out of a job long. If New York is looking for someone with lots of playoff experience and a history of developing talent, she fits the bill for both. Brondello is also the Australian national team coach, which provides a Liberty connection: Opals player Rebecca Allen is on New York’s roster, as is naturalized Aussie Sami Whitcomb.
Remember when Connecticut parted with coach Mike Thibault after the 2012 season, and the Washington Mystics snapped him up? That paid off big with the 2019 championship. Maybe a similar thing will happen with Brondello and the Liberty.
Sue Bird: No, she has not announced retirement as a player, so we are taking a flier here. Considering Bird’s amazing playing career with the Storm, Seattle is as much home to her as New York. But she is a Long Island native. So maybe the challenge of trying to lead the Liberty to its first title — not to mention the first pro basketball title for the Big Apple since the Knicks won the 1973 NBA championship — might be alluring.
Bird has never been a coach — she has worked with the Denver Nuggets’ front office — but the point guard has long been the ultimate coach on the floor.
Becky Hammon: We’re taking another flier here, considering Hammon has a long-running position as a San Antonio Spurs assistant and has said it is her goal is to be an NBA head coach. In her eighth season with the Spurs, Hammon’s salary is estimated in the $750,000 range, more than twice what some WNBA coaches reportedly make.
So the Liberty might not be able to lure her in any capacity. However, like Weatherspoon, Hammon was an extremely popular player with the Liberty from 1999-2006 before being traded to San Antonio. It seems a big long shot, but if any WNBA franchise could get Hammon, it likely would have to be New York.
Brian Agler: A very successful former WNBA coach, Agler won titles with Seattle (2010) and Los Angeles (2016). He most recently coached the Dallas Wings in 2019. Agler now is in college athletic administration at his alma mater, Wittenberg University in Ohio, but he hasn’t closed the door on returning to coaching.
Pokey Chatman: The former Sky and Indiana Fever coach has a ton of experience both in the WNBA and overseas. The Mercury players are all familiar with her, and this would give her a chance to go for a WNBA championship, one of the things she hasn’t yet achieved.
Lindsey Harding: The former WNBA guard is now in her third season as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. She previously worked with the Philadelphia 76ers, and might be looking for a chance to become a head coach.
Latricia Trammell: An assistant with the Los Angeles Sparks, she is known as a defensive wizard. She previously was a WNBA assistant in San Antonio, and before that 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.