Courtney Vandersloot, Liberty set to run it back in bid to win WNBA Finals this time

There was a time this offseason, Courtney Vandersloot admitted, when she worried.

She knows how free agency — and those meetings — works.

Just last year, the Liberty point guard navigated that and ended up leaving the only WNBA team she’d ever played for.

Courtney Vandersloot said she’s glad the Liberty, who lost in the WNBA Finals last season, is bringing back their nucleus to make another run at a title. Michelle Farsi for New York Post

Vandersloot didn’t think she would end up in Brooklyn.

“I don’t think very many people did,” she said. The same thing could’ve happened to Jonquel Jones, a former MVP with the Connecticut Sun and pivotal piece of the Liberty’s run to the WNBA Finals in 2023, when her contract expired.

But after Jones signed a two-year deal to remain with the Liberty, and Breanna Stewart received the core designation and secured another one-year contract, their nucleus from that postseason run — where the Liberty fell to the Aces and hit the super-team obstacle that still looms in 2024 — remained intact.

General manager Jonathan Kolb revamped their bench with Kennedy Burke, Leonie Fiebich and Ivana Dojkic, and that, Vandersloot said, usually “makes a good team a great team.”

But the first step was ensuring everything — or as much as possible, as the Liberty lost reserve forward Stefanie Dolson to the Mystics — stayed the same.

“I trusted in that [Jones] wanted to be a part of what we were building and obviously fell short with what the ultimate goal was,” Vandersloot said Wednesday after her visit to the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion, “but again, you just never know. But once she told me that she’s coming back, then I could sleep at night and everything’s good.”

So once Jones and Stewart inked their deals, the rest of the Liberty’s present started to settle into place.

Courtney Vandersloot visits patients at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion on Thursday. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Vandersloot wasn’t playing overseas — where she’d carved out a separate career in Turkey, Russia and Hungary since turning pro — and instead trained.

And in instances such as Wednesday, Vandersloot represented the Liberty in a community where their footprint and recognition has blossomed since their return to Barclays Center in 2021.

Vandersloot, 35, shifted between inpatient and outpatient rooms at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion, posing for photos with the children and staff, and signing autographs.

She gave an 8-year-old patient a shirt, learned about an upcoming trip and found out they shared the same birthday month.

Vandersloot understood what the patients and the families experienced, with her mother’s battle with cancer making hospital visits hit “close to home for me,” she said.

Courtney Vandersloot Noah K. Murray for New York Post

This time, and in other appearances since arriving in Brooklyn, Vandersloot gets spotted for her Liberty association.

And that, based on her past experiences, wasn’t always the case.

“I come from an era that hasn’t always been like that in the WNBA,” Vandersloot said. “A lot of the time, you walk in a room, no one knows what the WNBA is.”

Last year, the Liberty rewarded record-setting attendance numbers with a franchise-best 32-8 regular season and postseason victories over the Mystics and Sun.

They had Vandersloot at point guard.

Courtney Vandersloot poses for a picture with nurses and staff members at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion on Thursday. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Stewart won her second MVP award.

Sabrina Ionescu set the WNBA’s single-season record for made 3-pointers.

Jones rediscovered her vintage production at forward and was perhaps the Liberty’s most effective player in the postseason.

It took time for the group to jell, especially because Vandersloot and Jones were injured during training camp.

Three new starters would be difficult to integrate if every minute of every possible practice was available, but that wasn’t the case.

They were figuring things out “on the fly,” Vandersloot said, and in the playoffs, they learned to navigate their first run together, too.

So if anything, the offseason has been defined by stability with most of the lineup — especially the starters — avoiding change.

This year, they’re in a “completely different place,” Vandersloot said. They know what works. They know what doesn’t. They know the Aces, still, are the team to beat.

And the last one, especially, will shape just about everything that follows.

“We went in there with not a lot of group experience,” Vandersloot said of last year’s WNBA Finals. “I mean, we had individual experience, but you could tell that on the final stage, that the Aces had been there before. We hadn’t. That’s what it came down to.”

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