LOS ANGELES — With nearly $1 million dollars in cap space, the Sparks are a blank slate heading into the 2023 WNBA season.
The Sparks signed 6-foot-9 center Liz Cambage as their prized free agent before the 2022 season, but former General Manager/Coach Derek Fisher foreshadowed the franchise’s future perils at the Sparks media day in April: “It gives us a different interest level, by fans, by media, people are more curious about what our team is gonna look like – is it gonna be great? Or is it gonna implode?”
Cambage, who agreed to a contract divorce from the Sparks in July, released her first statement on the matter via Instagram on Monday: “I’ve decided to step away from the league for the time being and I’m hopeful that the WNBA will do their part in creating safer environments and stronger support system for their players.”
The tumultuous season did “implode.”
The Sparks finished with a 13-23 record.
They lost nine of their last 10 games and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season, which has only happened one other time in the organization’s 26-year history.
“I know that we can be better than what we have done this past season,” Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams said. “Our record didn’t indicate that, but we’re better than what our record shows and to make a long story short, I would be honored if I was asked to be the coach here. That’s for sure.”
Williams said it is important for next year’s team to be constructed in a way that complements All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike, who is 6-foot-2.
“Definitely have to get something in the middle with size,” Williams continued. “I don’t want to give all the secrets away here, but the players that are here have to go out and do their job in offseason and work on their game a little bit more and finding pieces around a player like Nneka, you don’t want to have her playing so much against a (center) or a big post player a lot.
“There’s no big secret. You have to find somebody, a bigger hammer in the middle, who is going to dominate.”
Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams, a native of Inglewood, California, said he wants to be the full-time head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks next season. @CoachFredW said it would be as honor because he loves LA. #LASparks #WNBA #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/MXIsDqrf8l
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) August 15, 2022
CARTER WANTS TO IMPROVE DEFENSE
Normally, teams that miss the playoffs receive a lottery pick.
However, the Sparks previously traded their first-round pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, along with guard Erica Wheeler, to the Atlanta Dream in the offseason for Chennedy Carter, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
Carter received limited playing time (16 minutes per game) and averaged 8.9 points per game for the Sparks. She was benched for several games this season by Williams.
Williams eventually had a change of heart after talking with Carter and the 5-9 guard played as a reserve guard in the final two games. Carter is one of two players who currently have guaranteed contracts for next season.
“I learned that I have a lot of growth,” Carter said. “I started talking to a therapist. It was a confidential (way to get things off my chest.)”
On the court, Carter said she wants to improve her defense, her ability to drive left and her jump shot, in particular from 3-point range.
“I am a player that loves to compete,” said Carter, who averaged 17.4 points per game her rookie season in 2020. “I feel like I need support and consistency.”
NNEKA OGWUMIKE WANTS TO RETURN
All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike is an unrestricted free agent who described the season as “tumultuous” and “rewarding” but is steadfast in her desire to play for the Sparks.
“Being the one who scores all the points is a heavy cross to bear. It sounds fun and it sounds like everyone wants it, but for me, I am all about having a goon squad. It’s not just about having one player that’s doing it all,” Ogwumike said in her exit interview with reporters after Sunday’s 116-88 loss against the Dallas Wings. “I know there’s times the team is going to lean on me and that’s certainly something I understand and I feel that I can manage well.
“I think having a team with people that understand it can be anyone’s day, that everyone is a threat, everyone has an arsenal but most importantly that there is one common goal, there’s standard and a foundation every single day and I can imagine that most players would want that and I look forward to being able to see that happen.”
“I go where my sister goes, we’re a two-for-one (right now),” added Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike, who is also an unrestricted free agent who remains optimistic about the Sparks’ future.
“Our goal as sisters is to win a championship together,” Chiney Ogwumike added before sharing that she’s looking forward to the first offseason where she can focus on skill development instead of rehabilitation.
Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver, Amanda Zahui B., Brittney Sykes, Jordin Canada and Lexie Brown are all free agents.
“I will play next season period,” Toliver said. “I look forward to playing … getting healthy.
“When you’re late for the first day of the season and I’m getting my physical and you find out the head coach (Derek Fisher) is fired… it’s frustrating.”
“I’m optimistic that things are only going to get better from here,” Toliver continued.
The Sparks have five players under contract for next season: Carter (guaranteed), Katie Lou Samuelson (guaranteed), Jasmine Walker and rookies Rae Burrell and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who started six games this season.
“We have the ability to be really good,” Samuelson said.
“What can I do more (of), how can I get better,” contemplated Nelson-Ododa, after being asked about areas of improvement.
Nelson-Ododa said in addition to reflection and self-growth, she will be focused on getting stronger via strength and conditioning in the offseason. She also wants to become a more versatile player while playing overseas in Australia.
“This league is super competitive, but we saw Chicago finish 16-16 last season and win a title,” Chiney Ogwumike added when asked if she believes the Sparks can win a championship in the next two to three seasons.
“Every year I approach it as though, it’s me versus myself,” Nneka Ogwumike said heading into next year’s 40-game season. “I prepare every season as though I’m going to have teammates that are ready to win.
“I’ve dealt with changes since before I played professionally and you understand that that’s the only constant and so you have to hold yourself accountable to being ready for the people that are new and the people that are old every year.”
Nneka Ogwumike said “being the one that scores all the points is a heavy cross to bear” in her Sparks exit interview but she is steadfast in her desire to continue playing for the Los Angeles Sparks. @nnekaogwumike is a 2023 WNBA unrestricted free agent. #LASparks #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/6wFYuPbTzo
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) August 15, 2022