The Los Angeles Sparks were an unmitigated disaster in 2022. They missed the playoffs for the second season in a row, their coach parted ways with the team early in the season and Liz Camabge went through a contract divorce with the Sparks after a tough loss against the eventual WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.
The Sparks have rebuilt their front office and now have Karen Bryant as the general manager and Curt Miller as their head coach. As they head into free agency, the team has plenty of open roster spots and lots of cap space. The question is, what are they going to do with it?
By the numbers*
Free agents (type) (2022 average salary)
- Lexie Brown (unrestricted) ($72,141)
- Jordin Canada (unrestricted) ($98,000)
- Chiney Ogwumike (unrestricted) ($116,390)
- Nneka Ogwumike (unrestricted) ($196,267)
- Brittney Sykes (unrestricted) ($113,300)
- Kristi Toliver (unrestricted) ($196,100)
Cap space: $777,165
Analysis: What has happened so far
WNBA Trade Alert— WNBA (@WNBA) January 16, 2023
The @connecticutsun are trading @jaszthomas & the #10 pick in the 2023 #WNBADraft to the @LASparks in exchange for @OliviaKNelson, @TheRealJuice40 & the rights to @_naannna. pic.twitter.com/KI8ANlzopO
The Sparks have been one of the most active teams in free agency. They started by trading Jasmine Walker, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and Kianna Smith for Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas and the No. 10 pick in the 2023 draft. The trade reunites JT with Curt Miller, gives the Sparks a first-round pick this year and clears up a couple of roster spots.
Los Angeles made another splash by trading Amanda Zahui B and a 2023 second-round pick for Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby and a 2024 first-round pick. Hamby has been a great rotation player for the champion Aces. While the WNBPA investigates Las Vegas’ handling of Hamby’s contract, from the Sparks’ perspective, they got a great player. Curt Miller and company hope a new opportunity will bring out the best in the two-time All-Star.
With over $700,000 in cap space left and plenty of quality players rumored to be interested in L.A., including former Sparks star Candace Parker, Los Angeles is far from done making moves this offseason.
Analysis: What we thought could happen
Priority No. 1 for Curt Miller and the Sparks has to be to bring back the Ogwumike sisters. Nneka has been the face of the team, she's been a Spark her entire career and she's coming off an MVP- level season. Chiney continues to improve and it's been made clear by both sisters that they are a package deal. If the Sparks fail to bring them back, that tells me one of two things. Bryant and Miller either did a poor job convincing the Ogwumikes of their plan, or they have a very drastic revamp in mind and want to completely clean house even of their best players.
The Los Angeles Sparks extended a Qualifying Offer to Kianna Smith @Winsidr— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) January 14, 2023
According to Rachel Galligan, the Sparks led a qualifying offer to Kianna Smith. So let's assume Smith is on the team (although just because they extend an offer doesn't mean she will be on the roster). For Kristi Toliver and Jordin Canada, I expect them to be gone. Toliver is older, expensive and constantly battling injuries and Canada I just don't think would fit a Curt Miller offense. Lexie Brown and Brittney Sykes have both expressed wanting to stay in L.A. and played great down the stretch, but I'm unsure how Curt Miller views them and what offers they may get from other teams. So, to me, they have 50/50 odds of returning.
If L.A. keeps the Ogwumikes, Slim and Brown, that gives them two roster spots left and with two second-round draft picks, that means not much movement for the Sparks this offseason. I doubt that happens. Likely some of their quality players will not return and a player like Chennedy Carter may be on the move. Yes, she is an explosive offensive player, but she's had problems off the court in Atlanta and in L.A. last year, which forced her out of games with multiple DNP coaches' decisions based on her conduct. Issues like that sound like something the Sparks will want to stay away from during the retooling of their roster, even given her talent and how much they gave up for her during the initial trade.
So, who should the Sparks go after if they are buyers this off-season? One name to keep an eye on is Candace Parker. She was a lifelong Spark before she left for her hometown team, the Chicago Sky, and now that Derek Fisher is gone, maybe she can return to L.A.? Speaking of Chicago, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are an interesting duo. The Vanderquigs appear to be on the move; maybe L.A. sunshine could convince them to play another season together? Another free agent to keep in mind is Kia Nurse. She’s an available guard and I believe a potential upgrade at that position.
Also, trading is always an option; Skylar Diggin-Smith is a player I'd keep an eye on. She has had her issues in Phoenix; a change of scenery and a lead role as the focal point of the Sparks offense could be a good move for all parties involved.
This off-season is a big one for Los Angeles. It's the first under Miller and Bryant and back-to-back losing seasons is unacceptable. Seeing how they fix a mess made by the previous regime will be interesting and that starts now with free agency.