From an outsider’s perspective, the 2019 Los Angeles Sparks campaign was quite successful. With a record of 22-12, the franchise made the playoffs for the 19th time in 23 seasons and became the first WNBA team to win 450 regular-season games. Not a bad year for a team with a new head coach.
But this season will be remembered more by the decisions off the court than on the court.
Was the hiring of head coach Derek Fisher the right one? Was he even the most deserving candidate based on his track record as a head coach? It is quite questionable. The coaches hired around him were of varying success, and one wonders why Latricia Trammell or any woman with coaching experience was not considered for the top job.
Fisher’s coaching decisions throughout the season came to a head in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the semifinals when Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike all sat the entire quarter. It is unlikely that the Sparks would have been able to get back into the game, let alone win, but no one would have questioned the coach’s rationale if he had played his top three players for at least a portion of the quarter.
Before that, the Sparks’ handling of Riquna Williams’ domestic violence case was not only a black mark for the franchise, but also for the league. Williams was signed, allowed to start the season and played until her suspension was announced on July 11. She played 23 regular-season games, meaning that she only missed one game outside of her suspension. In the future, it is imperative that both individual teams and the WNBA move quickly and consistently on legal incidents involving their players.
Candace Parker had a bit of a down year, mostly due to injury. The team had to integrate Chiney Ogwumike, which produced mixed results. Rookies Kalani Brown and Marina Mabrey were involved, but on a team with this much experience, they were always going to be hard-pressed to get meaningful minutes. Their development going forward will be key to continuing the team’s success.
Veteran Alana Beard played the fewest minutes of her career and was largely ineffective throughout the season as she dealt with injuries. If Beard is brought back for another season, it remains to be seen what she can offer in terms of on-court performance.
The Sparks are a contender in the league, but questions need to be asked about how the franchise leadership is going to guide the team the last few years of an aging but formidable roster.