Liberty Ready to Take The Next Step

There might not be a stronger affirmation of the state of a team and a greater statement of expectation for the season than this:

Whoever the New York Liberty pick in Thursday night’s WNBA Draft (7 p.m.; ESPN2) is going to be hard-pressed to make the roster.

Yes, the confidence surrounding the Liberty, which finished in first place in the Eastern Conference the last two seasons, is so high that GM and coach Bill Laimbeer has all but tossed the Book of Sports Cliches in a trash receptacle.

“The last two years we’ve knocked on the door,’’ Laimbeer told MSGNetworks.com. “Our goal is to get to the Finals. Obviously, you can’t win a championship unless you get to the Finals.

“I like our team. I like our talent, our experience and our depth. I think we have an established a culture here that makes this a franchise other franchises want to model.’’

Laimbeer was never known for his subtlety as a member of the NBA championship bad-boy Detroit Pistons. Sandbagging is not in his nature.

But don’t mistake his words as hot air. Everything he said about this team is legit.

The Liberty, which went 21-13 last season and 44-24 over the last two, have the most dominant front court player in the league in 6-foot-4 Tina Charles.

Liberty Charles Lynx Mccarville 053116

The New York native and former Christ the King and UConn star tied for the league lead in scoring (21.5 points) and was the leading rebounder (9.9). At 6-4, 198 pounds, there is no player in the league that can stop her one-on-one.

Former Rutgers and St. Michael Academy star Kia Vaughn (6-3) of the Bronx gives New York another formidable front line player. International star Amanda Zahui B of Sweden (6-5) and Kiah Stokes (6-3), another former UConn star, gives Laimbeer the kind of rugged front-line depth he loves.

Vaughn, who was acquired in a January trade, has been tearing it up in the EuroLeague where she is averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds and has led her USK Praha squad to the league championship series.

New York city guard Epiphanny Prince has shown she is completely recovered from right knee surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered in November of 2015. She played just six games last season but is averaging 9.2 points, 3.5 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals overseas.

The Liberty traded their No. 1 pick in this year’s draft for Zahui B, who is expected to take a big step in her third WNBA season. The Liberty have the second pick in the second round, No. 14 overall.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Theresa Plaisance #55 of the Dallas Wings fights for position against Amanda Zahui B. #17 of the New York Liberty on May 15, 2016 at the Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

“The league has gotten so good and so competitive that it’s going be hard on most players coming out of college to make a team,’’ Laimbeer said. “We have 12 teams with 12 players. That’s it. So there aren’t a lot of spots and a lot of very talented ladies competing for those spots.

“Everyone in this organization has worked very hard to put us in a position where we are a very desirable franchise for any player. Everything you need to success, we have. Now it’s a question of, do we have the talent?’’

It seems so.

The Liberty traded post defender Carolyn Swords to Seattle in a three-team deal that brought Vaughn, a tough presence in the paint, and shooting guard Bria Hartley, to New York.

Hartley, from Long Island, gives the Liberty another championship player from UConn, a solid three-point shooter and another metropolitan area player. In two trades, the Liberty got a talented front court player in Zahui B, a defensive post presence in Vaughn and depth in the backcourt with Hartley.

Make no mistake, the Liberty is going for it.

Laimbeer has four, third-year players waiting to break out. That gives Laimbeer roster flexibility and depth.

Stokes and Zahui B have the skill to go with size. Brittany Boyd, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, and Rebecca Allen, a talented small forward, comprise the Fantastic Four that could get New York to the Finals.

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“We feel that all four of those ladies are ready to take the next step,’’ said Laimbeer. “They have worked hard with our staff to develop as players and people and now is the time for everyone in the organization to benefit.”

Laimbeer already knows he’ll get a serious talent boost, regardless of who the team drafts or how quickly the Fantastic Four step up.

Prince has led her Dynamo Kursk team to the EuroLeague championship series, as well. The former Rutgers star is best known for helping turn New York City’s Murry Bergtraum high school into a national power by scoring 113 points in a game.

She could be joined in the backcourt by Boyd, Allen or crowd favorite Sugar Rodgers, a 5-9 dynamo from Georgetown who has fought for everything she’s gotten on and off the court. Rodgers and Hartley can make any team may for packing the paint.

“This has been a process,’’ Laimbeer said. “We have been building a culture within this organization that is focused on being the best.

“It’s not a team that was thrown together. This has taken a lot of planning and work. We’re looking forward to seeing it pay off.’’