Jonquel Jones intends to return to the New York Liberty, her agent told ESPN on Tuesday.

The 2021 WNBA MVP was a key piece in the Liberty’s WNBA Finals run last season, which was the team’s first appearance in the Finals since 2002.

Jones was an offseason acquisition by the Liberty last year, having been traded from the Connecticut Sun at her request. She had one year left on her contract at the time, which made her an unrestricted free agent in this offseason.

During exit interviews, Jones wasn’t ready to commit to returning to the Liberty, but noted that she was “definitely trending towards coming back here.”

Jones, according to Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb, was “arguably our best player, just in terms of consistency” in the postseason. He had stressed that the team “definitely” wanted to try and keep Jones in the wake of her free agency.

Last season, Jones averaged 11.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in the regular season. She became even more instrumental in the playoffs, averaging 16.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. She was also named MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup championship last season.

The Liberty also had 2023 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart as a free agent this offseason, but she was cored by the franchise last week.

New York Liberty players took exception to Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum’s criticism of their team following the WNBA Finals.

The Aces won a second consecutive WNBA championship, running it back with a very similar lineup to their 2022 title-winning season. After Wednesday’s series-clinching win, Plum pointed to Las Vegas’ long journey to that point — as compared to New York, which assembled its roster in the 2023 offseason.

“There was a lot of years that we weren’t so super,” she said. “But you can’t build a superteam in a couple of months. It takes years.”

Plum also questioned the Liberty’s team mentality.

“We also knew that, as much as they’re a team, they’re not a team, if that makes sense,” she told Yahoo Sports. “They’re really good individual players, but they don’t care about each other. And you can tell in those moments. They revert back to individual basketball.”

On Friday, Liberty players called out Plum’s comments in their end-of-season interviews.

“I think it’s easy to kick people when they’re down and you’re up, and honestly to me, it felt classless,” Jonquel Jones said. “You could celebrate with your team, and instead you chose to essentially s— on someone else.”

Sabrina Ionescu pushed back on the notion that New York isn’t a team, saying that “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“I’ve never been on a team that’s been more committed to one another than what it’s been like this year,” she said. “We had players that came together in a short amount of time… to try to win.”

Breanna Stewart sidestepped a question on Plum’s criticism, calling the Aces “phenomenal” and congratulating them on their win.

“Win or lose, we’ll just continue to carry ourselves with grace and keep that going forward,” she said.

Head coach Sandy Brondello admitted she had not looked much at social media since her team’s loss Wednesday, but she did say that what Plum said about the Liberty is “wrong.”

“I don’t even think I should comment, because I know it’s not true,” she said. “This team has grown so close together in a short period of time, and what Kelsey said is wrong.”

Plum then took to social media to clarify her comments.

“Since the media wants to do click bait, imma cut this drama out right now so we can move on and be in peace,” she wrote on X. “What I said was taken extremely out of context. I was trying to articulate my teammates and I have been through a lot and we used our bond to get over the hump.”

She also apologized for how her words came on, noting that she didn’t intend to “throw shade.”

“Never been the type to throw shade, quite the opposite actually,” she continued. “I see how it came off, never was my intention and I apologize. Our game grew immensely from this series, don’t let this bull shit detract from the biggest win here.”

The New York Liberty have no intention of letting go of Breanna Stewart anytime soon.

Ahead of the WNBA Finals, Stewart said that she hadn’t thought about free agency after signing a one-year deal with the Liberty. But she knew what her future likely held.

“I can pretty much almost guarantee that I’ll be cored, since I’ve never been cored,” she told The Athletic. “I’m happy in New York.”

On Friday, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb confirmed Stewart’s hunch. New York will be placing the core designation on the the 2023 WNBA MVP. With the designation, Stewart will return to the Liberty on a one-year supermax deal.

“Stewie will 100% be cored,” he said. “She will not be an unrestricted free agent.”

Of course, that leaves open the question of other impending free agents, including Jonquel Jones. While Jones is an unrestricted free agent after joining New York via trade ahead of the 2023 season, bringing her back is a priority for the team – and Jones said Friday that she’s “definitely trending towards coming back” to New York.

“With JJ, it was a situation of trying to feel out this season,” Kolb said. “In the postseason, she was arguably our best player. … For us, it’s a player we definitely want to retain.”

The New York Liberty are still alive.

Facing elimination in the 2023 WNBA Finals, the Liberty defeated the Las Vegas Aces, avoiding a series sweep with an 87-73 in Game 3.

The Liberty lost the first two games of the best-of-five championship series but rebounded with a victory in front of a sold-out crowd at Barclays Center. So far, the Finals have mirrored the regular-season series between the two superteams, as Las Vegas and New York each won the two games on their home courts.

The teams will play Game 4 at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday in New York. If necessary, Game 5 will be held at 9 p.m. ET Friday in Las Vegas.

Star center Jonquel Jones led the way for New York, scoring 27 points and bringing down 8 rebounds. Sabrina Ionescu dictated the tone of the Liberty’s offense, recording 11 assists along with 9 points.

Kelsey Plum scored 29 points in a losing effort for the Aces. Another significant loss for Las Vegas came in the fourth quarter, as guard Chelsea Gray exited the game with an apparent leg injury.

Playing in its first WNBA Finals since 2002, New York came out firing in Game 3 after losing the first two games of the series in Las Vegas. Head coach Sandy Brondello’s team led by three points at halftime before breaking the game open over the final two quarters.

The win came in front of an announced 17,143 fans at Barclays Center, the highest gate receipt ever for a WNBA Finals game. Dawn Staley, Joan Jett, Tony Parker and Jason Sudeikis were among those in attendance.

The makings of the New York Liberty’s first WNBA Finals run since 2002 started in the offseason, when the team assembled what many have called a superteam.

Just few days after the 2022 season ended, general manager Jonathan Kolb already was making plans, and in his mind were three players to chase in the offseason: Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot.

One by one, the dominoes fell. First came Jones, as the 2021 WNBA MVP was acquired via trade from the Connecticut Sun in January.

The signing of Stewart came afterward, but the seeds of the deal dated back to the previous offseason. Stewart met with the Liberty ahead of the 2022 season, but she did not want to leave retiring star Sue Bird in her final season with the Seattle Storm. One year later, though, all bets were off.

Kolb flew with other Liberty executives to Istanbul, where Stewart was playing in the offseason, to make their case. From that point on, there wasn’t anywhere else for the league MVP. On Jan. 31, she informed the Liberty of her plans to sign with them, and she did so the following day, the first day that free agents could sign contracts.

One day after that, Courtney Vandersloot joined the party. While she came close to signing with the Minnesota Lynx, another phone conversation with Kolb and Brondello the day before her signing changed her mind.

“When we put this team together, obviously the goal was to bring in the talent and let’s make a run for this,” head coach Sandy Brondello said Sunday. “And we certainly did that. Jonathan did a great job, and these players believed in the vision that we laid out to them to try and convince them to come to New York.”

While Kolb and Brondello brought the pieces together, the players themselves needed to find their rhythm. They started the season out of sync at times, but they found their groove, and they are sailing into the WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces.

“I only spoke about championships [on] day one, and then it was over. Because you have to do a lot of hard work,” Brondello said. “It was a journey. I think early on people think you just snap your fingers and it’s gonna work. But it takes time. We got five new players trying to learn to play with each other. … We faced some adversity still but we had built up so much connection and commitment that we could overcome those.”

The New York Liberty have advanced to their first WNBA Finals since 2002, where they will go up against their superteam rival in the Las Vegas Aces.

With the 87-84 win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 of the WNBA semifinals, the Liberty clinched a 3-1 series victory. Three of their starters scored 20 points or more to lead New York: Breanna Stewart (27), Jonquel Jones (25) and Betnijah Laney (21).

While the Liberty have four previous WNBA Finals appearances, the last one came in 2002. New York is one of the WNBA’s eight founding franchises, but it has never won a championship.

From the start of the 2023 season, though, the Liberty and the defending champion Aces were the betting favorites to compete in the Finals. Heading into the postseason, FanDuel set -210 odds for a battle of the superteams, followed by +500 for an Aces-Sun meeting.

New York transformed into a contender with a blockbuster offseason, headlined by the signing of the premier free agent in Stewart and the trade for 2021 MVP Jones. Jones finished Sunday’s win with a double-double, posting 15 rebounds in addition to her 25 points. She also had four blocks, including an emphatic stop of Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner in the final seconds of the first half.

Yet while the Liberty won the day (and the series), Sun forward Alyssa Thomas turned in the most memorable performance.

The 31-year-old star collided with Jones in the fourth quarter, and then she remained on the ground, grimacing in pain. But after spending several minutes in the locker room, she returned to complete the 11th triple-double of her career.

Thomas finished with a team-high 17 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. She leads the WNBA in career triple-doubles; no other player has more than three. She also has a record three postseason triple-doubles, after recording two in the 2022 WNBA Finals. All other players in league history have combined for two.

The New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces will start the WNBA Finals next Sunday, Oct. 8, with Game 1 set for a 3 p.m. ET tip-off on ABC.

New York Liberty star Jonquel Jones came up with a monster block of Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner with six seconds remaining in the first half of Sunday’s WNBA semifinals contest, helping her team carry a one-point lead into the halftime break.

Jones’ block halted a layup attempt from Bonner, which would have extended the Sun’s one-point lead. Instead, Betnijah Laney picked up the defensive rebound, then Sabrina Ionescu made a layup on the other end, sending the Liberty into the half with a 45-44 advantage.

New York holds a 2-1 lead in the series. With a win in Sunday’s Game 4, the Liberty would advance to face the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Finals.

With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Jones had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. The 2021 MVP was traded from the Sun to the Liberty ahead of the 2023 season.

Jonquel Jones has accomplished a lot in her career, but there’s one thing that has eluded her.

Jones, a forward for the New York Liberty, is one of the most decorated players in the WNBA. But she has never won a WNBA Championship. In a recent interview with ESPN, the 2021 WNBA MVP spoke to the lengths she would go to achieve that goal.

“I’d give up my MVP trophy to be a champion,” Jones says. “That’s what you play for. You don’t play for individual accolades.”

Jones has sacrificed this season in pursuit of that goal. She’s fourth on the team in scoring (11.3 points per game), way down from her 2021 (19.4 points per game). It appears to be working: The Liberty entered the postseason at 32-8, the second best record in the league.

In the team’s 90-75 win over the Washington Mystics in the first game of their first-round series, Jones scored 20 points and recorded 12 rebounds and four assists. She was one of four New York players to score in double-figures, including Sabrina Ionescu (29 points), Betnijah Laney (19 points) and Breanna Stewart (10 points).

Jones, Stewart and point guard Courtney Vandersloot all previously played together overseas for UMMC Ekaterinburg. Now, alongside Ionescu and Laney, they’ve formed a “superteam” intent on making noise in the postseason.

“I’m very happy to be in New York and be playing with these ladies,” Jones said in an interview with Slam.

The Liberty host the Mystics in the second game of the series Tuesday, before heading to Washington, D.C. for Game 3 on Friday.

Jonquel Jones still thinks about what could have been.

The 2021 WNBA MVP spent six seasons with the Connecticut Sun, making the Finals twice and the semifinals another two times. Still, she turns over each missed opportunity in her mind. A tweak here, an adjustment there, and maybe she would have won a title with the Sun.

“Even when you’re reminiscing you kind of think about things that you could probably do to get you over that hump,” Jones said. “It’s in the books now. There’s nothing that we can do to change it, but there’s times where it’s bitter and when it’s really sweet, literally. I’m happy to be able to accomplish what we were able to accomplish. But I still have a sore feeling of not being able to just finish it out and seal the deal.”

That’s part of the reason why Jones sat where she did Tuesday, against the backdrop of a Connecticut Sun press conference while wearing a New York Liberty jersey. A blockbuster trade in the offseason brought her to New York, with the hope that a fresh start could lead to her first WNBA Championship.

Yet the bittersweet taste of her ending with the Sun has tinged the beginning of her tenure with the Liberty.

The 29-year-old forward is still nursing a foot injury sustained during the 2022 Finals, in which the Sun lost 3-1 to the Las Vegas Aces. And her production so far this season isn’t what the WNBA has become accustomed to seeing. Jones is averaging 9.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, all down from her career averages of 13.3, 8.2 and 1.4.

The injury has played a part, but so has New York’s personnel. There’s a reason the squad has been heralded as the WNBA’s first superteam. The roster includes another MVP in Breanna Stewart, and still more stars in Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu. Then there’s Betnijah Laney, who became a cornerstone of the team in 2021, as well as a bench unit that features an exciting playmaker in Marine Johannès and a former WNBA champion in Stefanie Dolson. Kayla Thornton also has become a key piece of the secondary unit in her first season with the team.

That’s a lot of talent sharing one ball. But a decrease in production and a different role doesn’t take away from who Jones is.

“She’s still very important to what we are trying to accomplish here,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “She’s still getting back into top form, but in our minds, she’s still an MVP.”

The 6-6 Jones isn’t putting up 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds like she did during her MVP campaign in 2021. But just looking at her current stats does Jones a disservice, according to Brondello.

“She complements the players that we have and we are going to increase her role a little bit and build her up in the right way,” Brondello said.

Jones isn’t the only player who is capable of more than her current role. Thornton was a starter for the Dallas Wings last season, and Johannès could start on a team without Ionescu and Vandersloot ahead of her on the depth chart. And Laney, the fifth starter, is often forgotten when it comes to the superteam narrative. But opponents aren’t forgetting about any of the Liberty players.

“You have to defend all five positions at an elite level,” Sun coach Stephanie White said of the Liberty. “It’s tough because you really have to defend one-on-one because if you get caught in rotations you are vulnerable from a rebounding standpoint. You have to be great in all areas.”

You also have to understand that you can’t stop everyone.

“There are certain players on the floor that we have to live with taking shots and making shots,” White said. “And there are other players that if they make tough shots, you have to live with that too.”

So far this season, Stewart, Ionescu and Vandersloot have been New York’s big three, with Laney, Johannès and Jones just behind Vandersloot in scoring, all hovering around 10 points per game. But every time the Liberty take the floor, someone different can provide a scoring lift.

In Tuesday’s 89-81 win against the Sun, it was Laney with 16 and Jones with 14. Two games earlier, Johannès scored 18 points off the bench, and Thornton had 10. Laney had 17 in an overtime win over the Mystics, and in an early-season win over the Storm, Dolson had 10 points and 5 assists in just 18 minutes of action.

That willingness to take what comes to them and make the most of it has helped propel the Liberty to a 10-3 record. It also has kept New York in the championship conversation heading into Thursday’s superteam clash with Las Vegas.

“You just have to be ready,” Thornton said. “You don’t ever know when your name is going to be called, so you just have to stay ready and not get inside your head. You’ve got to look at what the team needs.”

Editor’s note: This story was first published in the first week of the 2023 WNBA season. The Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty will face off for the first time this season at 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

The Superteam Era of the WNBA officially has begun.

Fans have gotten their first glimpses of the new-look New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces squads. And while 10 other teams – like the Washington Mystics, who topped the Liberty 80-64 to open the season – have four months to make their cases, it’s easy to see why New York and Las Vegas are the favorites to battle it out for the WNBA title.

Here’s how they stack up.

Starting Five

Las Vegas Aces

Candace Parker, F, 6-4: The 37-year-old forward is looking to be the first WNBA player to win championships with three franchises after signing with the Aces as a free agent. She already has rings with the Sparks and the Sky in 2016 and 2021. Parker, who has been candid about being near the end of her professional career, is a two-time WNBA MVP and seven-time all-WNBA first team member. Over her 15-year career, Parker has maintained a reputation as a player who does everything. Last season she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block.

A’ja Wilson, F, 6-4: Five seasons into her career and A’ja Wilson has already won two MVP awards. The South Carolina product has been dominant since her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, but the 2022 season was her best yet. Wilson led the Aces to their first WNBA title, averaging 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Chelsea Gray, G, 5-11: After being snubbed for the All-Star game last year, Gray’s second half of the season became a revenge tour. Her play earned the point guard the Finals MVP trophy, as Gray averaged 21.7 points and 7.0 assists per game through the postseason while shooting 61.1% from the field and 54.4% from beyond the arc. Gray showed off her skills as a playmaker for others, and a shot-creator for herself, making over 60% of her contested looks.

Kelsey Plum, G, 5-8: Plum has gotten better every season since she was drafted No. 1 in 2017, and in 2022 she took a major step forward. The guard finished second in the WNBA in scoring with 20.2 points per game while also averaging a career-high 5.1 assists. After coming off the bench in 2021, coach Becky Hammon moved Plum back to a starting role and heavily relied on the guard throughout the season. She played 32.8 minutes per game, which ranked second in the league.

Jackie Young, G, 6-0: Young started the 2023 season on a high note, scoring 23 points in 26 minutes during the Ace’s first game of the season. Young is looking to build on a 2022 season that saw her named the league’s Most Improved Player. That’s largely because of the addition of a 3-point shot to her game. Young shot 25% in 2021 and 23.1% in 2020, but after dedicating herself to the craft, she shot 43.1% from long range in 2022. Young’s ability to shoot 3s adds another weapon to the Aces’ arsenal.

New York Liberty

Betnijah Laney, F, 6-0: Laney has been in the league since 2015 but had a breakout season in 2020 for Atlanta. She’s been a key piece for the Liberty since 2021, and while she missed most of last season with an injury, she’s back in top form and could end up being the unsung hero of this superteam. With big names around her, Laney likely won’t receive the same type of attention, but she will be impactful. The 29-year-old averaged 16.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 2021. She also brings toughness, a scorer’s mentality and established chemistry with Ionescu.

Breanna Stewart, F, 6-4: The offseason’s most sought-after free agent landed with the Liberty after playing six seasons with the Storm. Stewart wasted no time establishing herself, setting a franchise record with 45 points in New York’s home opener. She already has won two WNBA titles and was named Finals MVP in both instances. When she signed with the Liberty, the UConn product instantly catapulted the team to the top of the WNBA.

Jonquel Jones, F, 6-6: When Jones was traded to the Liberty back in January, the move set off the superteam era. The opportunity to play with the 2021 MVP enticed Stewart and Vandersloot to sign with the Liberty, and it likely motivated Parker to sign with the Aces in order to give her a chance at a title as well. Jones is a versatile scoring threat who plays both inside and beyond the arc. In her last season in Connecticut, Jones led the Sun to the WNBA Finals and averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.

Courtney Vandersloot, G, 5-8: The one thing the Liberty needed after signing Jones and Stewart was an elite, pass-first point guard. They got that in Vandersloot, who is third on the WNBA’s all-time assists leaderboard and holds the record for most assists in a single game with 18. Vandersloot played all 12 of her WNBA seasons with the Sky and won a title with Chicago in 2021 before joining the Liberty.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, 5-11: The 2020 No. 1 pick transitioned seamlessly into the league, but last season was telling for the star guard. She plays best off the ball, which is why Vandersloot was such a key addition. Ionescu averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 2022, while also posting her lowest turnover mark yet at 3 per contest. Known as the triple-double queen in college, she continues to do a little bit of everything in the WNBA.

Bench Players

Las Vegas Aces

Key players: Alysha Clark, Kiah Stokes, Riquna Williams

The one knock on the Aces last season was their lack of bench. It didn’t end up mattering, as the team secured a title, and Riquna Williams ended up playing big minutes in the Finals, but Becky Hammon & Co. still bolstered the bench unit in the offseason. They added an elite defender in 10-year WNBA veteran Alysha Clark. The Aces also retained Kiah Stokes, who brings rebounding and rim protection.

New York Liberty

Key Players: Marine Johannès, Kayla Thornton, Stephanie Dolson, Han Xu

Everyone off the bench for the Liberty brings something different to the court, which is what you want from secondary players. Johannès could easily be a starter for another team, and she’s an elite passer and crafty shot-creator. Thornton is an experienced vet who played six seasons mostly in a starting role for the Wings, and Dolson brings experience as well with nine WNBA seasons under her belt. Han Xu is a question mark for the Liberty, as she hasn’t seen much time in their first two games, but her size (6-10) and unique skill set (which includes 3-point shooting) make her a threat off the bench.

Head Coach

Las Vegas Aces

Becky Hammon set the bar high in her first season with the Aces, leading them to the franchise’s first WNBA title. She’s an experienced coach who spent years as an assistant for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs before taking the Aces job. Hammon also played 15 years in the WNBA and was a 6-time all star. The signing of Candace Parker put the Aces in position to compete for the title again, but it didn’t come without controversy. The Aces traded Dearica Hamby to the Sparks in order to make space for Parker, but a WNBA investigation found that Hamby was mistreated during the trade due to her pregnancy. Hammon denied the claims, but she was suspended for the first two games of the season.

New York Liberty

Sandy Brondello, like Hammon, has experience playing in the WNBA as well as coaching. She played professionally from 1992-2004, and she also represented the Australian National team, winning two silver medals in the Olympics. She got into coaching in 2005 as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars, the franchise that became the Las Vegas Aces. Brondello made her name as a coach with the Mercury, coaching in Phoenix from 2014-2021 and winning a WNBA championship in 2014 before taking the Liberty job in 2022.

Team History

Las Vegas Aces

The Aces joined the WNBA in 1997 first as the Utah Starzz, then became the San Antonio Silver Stars (later just the Stars) before moving to Las Vegas in 2018. The franchise had one conference title in 2008, and then the Aces secured the first title last season.

New York Liberty

The Liberty joined the WNBA in 1997 as well but have stayed put in the New York City area (if not always in their current home borough of Brooklyn). The team has won three conference titles, in 1999, 2000 and 2002, but has yet to win a WNBA title.