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Laimbeer, Liberty ready to start next chapter

The "Liberty and Laimbeer Show, Part 2" is coming to WNBA arenas this summer. It's way too early, of course, to give a review. But we know it's going to be different from the past two seasons, even if the "director" is the same.

Bill Laimbeer, let go last October after his second season with New York, was then re-hired in January and will try to re-ignite the torch, as it were.

The Liberty went a combined 26-42 in 2013 and '14 under Laimbeer, missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since the WNBA began in 1997. One of the league's original teams, the Liberty are still seeking to win their first championship -- something Laimbeer did three times when he coached the Detroit (now Tulsa) Shock.

We're calling this "Part 2" instead of "Part 3," even though it's Laimbeer's third season in New York. That's because the past two years were their own chapter. This season is a new chapter, and to that end Laimbeer and Liberty senior vice president Kristin Bernert had a teleconference Monday with their two first-round draft choices from last week: No. 9 pick Brittany Boyd of Cal and No. 11 Kiah Stokes of UConn.

Laimbeer joked about Boyd finally getting out of Berkeley, California, where she went to high school and college, to come play in the Big Apple. Boyd, a 5-foot-9 guard, definitely has the right idea about what to do next: Keep your eyes and ears open, because there is a whole lot to absorb.

Boyd, a WBCA All-American this season, seems eager to traverse three time zones and jump right into a different kind of classroom setting. She will get the chance to learn from veteran guards such as Tanisha Wright (a free-agent signee who spent her first 10 seasons in Seattle), Epiphanny Prince (obtained in February from Chicago in a trade for Cappie Pondexter) and Essence Carson.

"I think those players are going to prepare me and challenge me each day to get better," said Boyd, who averaged 13.4 points, 6.8 assists and 7.7 rebounds this season at Cal. "I just want to learn and figure out how we can be great as a franchise."

As for Stokes, a 6-3 center, Laimbeer said he thinks she can improve as an offensive player in the WNBA. She will have another UConn product to team up with in star Tina Charles, and maybe will give Charles more opportunity to play the power forward spot.

Laimbeer said that Stokes, who averaged 4.5 points and 6.8 rebounds this past season, didn't need to score much for the national champion Huskies because others took care of that. And he referenced UConn coach Geno Auriemma in saying that there was plenty of room for improvement in Stokes' offensive game.

OK, but ... maybe Laimbeer was mostly being rhetorical here. Saying there's room for improvement definitely is not the same as saying improvement will happen. UConn rarely leaves a lot of potential development "undeveloped" with its players. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of any UConn grad of whom you think, "Wow, she really got so much better after she left there."

That's not to say that UConn alum don't improve when they reach the pro level; obviously, they do. But the improvement is built on a strong foundation that was already there from their time in Storrs. It just seems unlikely that Stokes will go from practically an offensive afterthought at UConn to a reliable scoring threat in the WNBA.

However, perhaps that's not all that relevant to whether she makes an impact with the Liberty. We know Stokes has high-level defensive prowess; she had 325 blocks in her UConn career. Laimbeer -- talking about Boyd and Stokes, but also his players in general -- said that it's important to acknowledge the identity they have.

"You don't want to change immediately who they are," Laimbeer said. "You don't want to detract from that. You talk about Kiah as a magical shot-blocker and defender.

"Go do your thing. If your thing isn't good enough, or it's going in the wrong way, then you say, 'Hey stop here. Let's mold this a little bit.' But you draft people and acquire people for certain skills and ways they play. You let them do their thing."

Figuring out how it all fits together is going to take a while for the Liberty, as opposed to some other WNBA teams whose composition and chemistry will be more similar to last season's. But that's OK, considering the Liberty aren't looking to repeat last year.

Carson, by the way, is the only player on the Liberty's roster now who was on the team when Laimbeer took over in 2013; Avery Warley came to New York during that season. This will be Carson's eighth year in New York.

She has not won a championship, but veterans such as Swin Cash (three titles) and Wright have. Every WNBA team tries to put together a mix of experienced veterans, in-their-prime stars, and youngsters -- and then hopes that combination works both in regard to the salary structure and their on-court production.

That New York looks so different from when Laimbeer first arrived is testament to the fact that this is -- or should be -- "his" team now. Which seems like an ironic thing to say, considering for most of last October through December, it literally wasn't his team.

But it is again. While there will be difficult roster cuts to make before the season opener June 5 against Atlanta, there is reason to think the Liberty might have the personnel to get back into the postseason.

"We've assembled some very good veterans who are not about themselves right now," Laimbeer said. "So they're going to be good mentors for these young players we're bringing in. They'll go out of their way to help them, because they're not really into a competition about minutes. All they care about is winning at this point."