If the 2021 WNBA free agency period exceeds last year’s frenzy, expect Los Angeles to be at the center of the action.
The Los Angeles Sparks enter an absolutely monumental offseason in 2021, made more so because of Derek Fisher’s elevation to general manager. Can he execute a successful offseason and silence doubts about his credentials?
Ensuring the Sparks have a championship-caliber roster will be a tough task.
Here’s a preview of the difficult decisions Fisher will have to consider:
Will LA ‘Spark’ another wild WNBA offseason?
Entering the 2021 offseason, the Sparks have seven free agents, including the long-tenured, championship-winning core of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray.
All three are unrestricted free agents deserving of maximum contracts. Doling them out should be an easy decision for Fisher, except doing so would suck up a significant amount of the Sparks’ cap space and limit the ability to fill out the roster with other experienced players. In particular, maxing Parker, Ogwumike and Gray would make it difficult to re-sign reserved player Chiney Ogwumike and restricted free agent Brittney Sykes, who could receive a rich offer sheet from another team after her breakout season with LA in 2020.
As such, Fisher will have to navigate some tricky negotiations. Will he ask all three to take less than the max? This request could lead to hurt feelings that send one or more of the Sparks’ stars fleeing for a team eager to pay them their full worth. Yet, even if they are open to agreeing to a contract that is below maximum value, the trio may feel pressured to sign a maximum contract since the WNBPA, led by N. Ogwumike, fought hard for higher-dollar contracts in the most recent CBA.
Can D-Fish convince CP3 to stay in LA?
In his opening press conference, Fisher suggested that his full control of the Sparks’ decision-making processes will allow for a successful offseason, despite the apparent obstacles ahead, asserting:
I believe it will allow me to have a more hands-on approach. To help us in not just winning on the court, but also our organizational vision. How we want to work with each other on a daily basis. Instead of doing that from a distance, so to speak, where you’re involved in certain conversations.
Fisher also expressed particular confidence about retaining Parker:
We have every intention of making every effort possible to re-sign Candace Parker and make sure she finishes her career in LA. There’s no hesitation around that. Our intentions are to make sure Candace never plays a game for any other team.
Whether Fisher finds a way to retain Parker, Ogwumike and Gray while maintaining a strong team around them — or, makes bigger, unexpected moves that totally shake up the Sparks’ roster — the verdict on him as a general manager ultimately will depend on his performance as a head coach.
If playoff success again eludes the Sparks, questions will continue to surround Fisher’s status in LA.