Liberty’s Jonathan Kolb wins 2023 WNBA Executive of the Year for building super-team

New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb is the WNBA's Executive of the Year. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb is the WNBA’s Executive of the Year. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After five years of effort culminated in a historic offseason and ushered in a super-team era for the New York Liberty, general manager Jonathan Kolb is the 2023 WNBA Executive of the Year.

He is the first executive to win the award for the franchise, which is eight wins away from securing its first WNBA championship.

It’s also Kolb’s first time winning the award, which was determined by a voting panel comprised of the executives from each of the league’s 12 teams. Dallas Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb was the runner-up.

The four-year rebuild turned a corner when the Liberty won the 2020 WNBA Draft lottery. The team selected Sabrina Ionescu out of Oregon, who has come into her own as a top 3-point shooter in the league. After leading the charge on that pick, Kolb hired championship-winning head coach Sandy Brondello ahead of 2022.

This offseason, Kolb pulled the strings behind a blockbuster three-team trade that brought 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones to Brooklyn from the Connecticut Sun in January.

A month later, he signed leading free agents Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot. Kolb spent a long time courting Stewart, a two-time WNBA champion and the 2018 MVP who utilized the attention from the league to raise awareness about its issues — a perfect leader for the culture Kolb was looking to build.

Vandersloot is also a WNBA champion and a five-time All-WNBA selection, making New York the WNBA’s first team with at least three All-Stars.

“What’s really important here is we didn’t just target the best names on a sheet and try to get them all,” Kolb said in February. “We were really tactical with researching and going about getting people that will fit what we’re building and that’s these two right here, as well as JJ [Jones] joining.”

That ethos proved effective as the Liberty ended the regular season with the second-best record in the league (32-8). That .800 winning percentage is the highest in the franchise’s 27 seasons, a huge improvement from its .444 mark (16-20) in 2022.

The Liberty also won the 2023 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship last month, a victory that featured stellar performances from Ionescu and Jones.

While the franchise now could win its first league title, it also stands to bring New York its first basketball championship since 1973.