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2024 WNBA Free Agency: Under a new general manager, can the Los Angeles Sparks build a playoff-caliber team?

The Los Angeles Sparks will look a lot different in 2024, and that’s a good thing given how 2023 went.

Indiana Fever v Los Angeles Sparks
Can free agency provide head coach Curt Miller with the roster needed to return the Sparks to the playoffs?
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

In the past three seasons, the Los Angeles Sparks have had a losing record, missed the playoffs, fired a head coach and continued to play musical chairs with management by restructuring the people in charge and the roles they hold. Right now, we have Curt Miller as the head coach and a new general manager in Raegan Pebley, with Eli Horowitz promoted to assistant general manager and vice president of scouting and analytics.

We can contextualize circumstances all we want, but, at the end of the day, the past 1,000 days do not meet the standard for which this organization is known. It's not the fans' expectations or what's needed to garner attention in Los Angeles. This is a city of champions—you either are or you are not. And if you aren't, you better get it together or you'll be relegated to irrelevancy.

The good news is it's not the past three seasons. It's 2024 and there's a lot to be optimistic about. This is year two of the Miller era and his resume suggest the good times are nearing. The Sparks have the second pick in the WNBA draft and the cap room to turn things around.


Facts and figures*

Players under contract (contract status; 2024 salary)

  • Azurá Stevens (protected veteran; $195,000)
  • Dearica Hamby (protected veteran $169,000)
  • Stephanie Talbot (protected veteran $115,000)
  • Lexie Brown (unprotected $80,340)
  • Nia Clouden (unprotected $74,398)
  • Zia Cooke (unprotected $69,663)

Free agent (type; 2023 salary)

  • Jordin Canada (unrestricted; $74,305)
  • Layshia Clarendon (unrestricted; $74,305)
  • Chiney Ogwumike (unrestricted; $90,000)
  • Nneka Ogwumike (unrestricted; $199,530)
  • Karlie Samuelson (unrestricted; $62,675)
  • Katie Lou Samuelson (unrestricted; $130,000)
  • Jasmine Thomas (unrestricted; $190,000)

Total salary of free agents: $820,815

Total team salary: $703,401

Cap space: $759,799

2024 WNBA Draft picks (2024 salary)

  • Round 1, No. 2 ($76,535)
  • Round 1, No. 12 ($70,344)
  • Round 3, No. 28 ($64,154)

Analysis

Los Angeles Sparks v Seattle Storm
Will Sparks stalwart Nneka Ogwumike stay in LA?
Photo by Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images

The first priority for the Sparks has to be to bring back Nneka Ogwumike. There aren't enough superlatives to describe how good she was last season for the Sparks. She averaged 19.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game and was named All-WNBA Second Team. As an unrestricted free agent, Ogwumike can do whatever she wants, but if she wants to return to LA, the only team she has ever played for, then the Sparks have to make sure that happens. Not much positive has happened in LA recently, but allowing your franchise player to walk away and play elsewhere would be one of the lowest points of this decade. If she returns, she will likely come with her sister, Chiney Ogwumike. Her contract is likely near six figures. That's a lot of money tied up to your bigs.

That's not the only sisters on this team; Karlie Samuelson and Katie Lou Samuelson both play similar roles as players who can hit the 3 and space the floor. It’s doubtful LA can keep both. Karlie played well for the Sparks last season, averaging 7.7 points per game and shooting 42 percent from 3. Katie Lou missed the entire season due to her pregnancy, but is considered the more talented player. Should the Sparks double down on their commitment to her and bring her back in 2024? Will they have to choose between the two? If so, who should they pick?

There are lots of questions this off-season and not many easy solutions. Another position the team has to evaluate is at point guard. Do you bring back Jordin Canada? Last season, she was promised nothing and was on a training camp contract. She turned that into a starting position on the team and a career year. She'll likely have multiple offers, and there will be a bidding war for her services. What can the Sparks do if they lose their starting guard?

Phoenix Mercury v Los Angeles Sparks
Could Jordin Canada and Skylar Diggins-Smith become LA’s starting backcourt?
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

If that happens, or perhaps regardless of that situation, Skylar Diggins-Smith is a player LA should target. She's a bonafide superstar with a chip on her shoulder. Pairing her with Ogwumike and that No. 2 pick would turn this team around fast. If SDS is possible at all, Sparks have to be aggressive and pursue her.

With new management in the second year of this rebuild, we'll know more about how much the Sparks liked last year's roster. We’ll also learn if players want to play in L.A. in the coming weeks. The WNBA title cannot be won anytime soon, but off-season improvements are the first step toward the trophy. We'll have a better idea of how much closer the Sparks are to that goal once free agency deals start happening.


*Thanks to Her Hoop Stats for all salary numbers.