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Penny Toler has her work cut out for her as the new coach of the L.A. Sparks

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The L.A. Sparks announced earlier today that Penny Toler would be taking over for Carol Ross as head coach, but that hot seat on the bench hasn't exactly cooled down and might be heating up.

Photo by Getty Images.

There is certainly a way in which the L.A. Sparks' firing of Carol Ross feels a lot like the Phoenix Mercury's mid-season firing of Corey Gaines last season.

In both cases, a talented team with multiple #1 draft picks fell way short of expectations in the first half of the season and the coach was held accountable with the team under .500 at just past the 20-game mark.

But there's one difference in these two situations: the Mercury were a team that was built to win, as shown by the way they went 9-4 and got to the Western Conference Finals after the coaching change. It's not at all clear that the Sparks' problems will be so quickly ameliorated by a coaching change in large part because the problems that plague the Sparks this season have been evident for over a year now, as follows:

  • Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker play the same position, which causes defensive & offensive problems.
  • Their backcourt rotation requires a coach to make defensive and offensive trade-offs.
  • Their best lineup for the past two years - but especially this year - includes three bigs (Ogwumike, Parker, Jantel Lavender), which hurts them on both ends.

The latter point is exacerbated by the Sparks surprisingly average rebounding for a team that starts three bigs: the Sparks are right around the middle of the league in rebounding (sixth in offensive rebounding, fifth in total rebounding percentage), underscored by Parker's career-lows in offensive rebounding percentage for the past two seasons (according to Basketball-Reference).

If the Sparks rebounded better, their poor perimeter shooting would be less of a problem. Unfortunately, they're an average offensive rebounding team and too frequently completely disorganized on offense, which causes significant problems for them before we even really start discussing defense.

Some of that could certainly be explained by coaching, but as much or more is about fundamental personnel and roster structure problems that won't simply go away even with a master coach - problems that the general manager should be held accountable for.

And now the general manager, Penny Toler, is in the more visible position of coach, which puts her immediately and firmly on the hot seat previously occupied by Carol Ross in a way that Mercury interim coach Russ Pennell simply wasn't last season.

Toler has her work cut out for her in trying to save this season for a Sparks team that arguably had disproportionately high expectations given how things stand in the Western Conference. And if the team continues to struggle to an early finish line in 2014, it will be much easier to bring in a fresh perspective at the front office level to make some difficult decisions.

That's less of a "hot take" than a "discount day old baked good" take: these problems have been festering for some time and simply came to a head this season with a number of ugly losses and players under-performing. Ross' firing should probably be the first of multiple changes in the Sparks organization.