January 12, 2021 

Big decisions loom for the Sparks

Los Angeles aims to retain much of its core from recent seasons

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Enjoy our team-by-team free agency previews!

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PALMETTO, FL- JULY 25: A jump ball between Nneka Ogwumike #30 of the Los Angeles Sparks and Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury on July 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAEvia Getty Images).

January is here and that brings us the beginning of WNBA free agency. As of now, teams are already allowed to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents as well as designate a free agent as a core free agent.

The Los Angeles Sparks have already extended some of those offers to a few of their players. Brittney Sykes, who had a strong 2020 season, especially on the defensive end of the court, was tendered a qualifying offer. As a restricted free agent, she’s able to sign an offer sheet with another team once the league’s free agency period begins next month, but the Sparks will have the option to match the offer.

Sykes became a starter last season and was one of the most valuable members of the team outside of the main core. She was a strong presence on the offensive end with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. She was also a dependable shooter from distance. Defensively, she was often tasked with slowing down the opposing team’s best offensive wing. Dependable role players are essential for teams with championship aspirations, and the Sparks would do well to keep her in the fold.

The Sparks have also tendered an offer to Te’a Cooper. Cooper is a reserved player, meaning that unless the Sparks were to release her outright, she is only able to negotiate with the Sparks once the free agency period begins.

As a rookie, Cooper was a pleasant surprise for the Sparks. She filled in as a part-time starter for injuries and was an otherwise key contributor off the bench. She was a decent playmaker and solid ball-handler and was able to get her own shot on the offensive end.

She’s also in the mold of a good role player and judging by the Sparks’ move, they view her as an integral part of their future and someone they certainly want back.

The Sparks also extended a qualifying offer to Marianna Tolo, who played for the team in 2015 but has since been playing in Australia. She’s a center, but it’s not clear if she factors into the Sparks’ plans. In another minor move, the Sparks renounced the rights to Ángela Salvadores, whom they drafted in 2019.

But the main focus for the Sparks as free agency approaches is their core three of Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, and Nneka Ogwumike. All three players are unrestricted free agents and free to sign with whatever team they choose.

Any hopes the Sparks have for winning a championship hinge on being able to bring all three back. And that’s where things could begin to get complicated. It’s not that the team wouldn’t want them all back. Head coach and newly-appointed general manager Derek Fisher has said multiple times the team’s priority is to bring them all back.

But all three are in line for max contracts, and that’s where the roster could start to get interesting. The Sparks can certainly sign all three to max contracts, but that would likely restrict the team from being able to fill out the rest of the roster under the salary cap. It could lead to Sykes receiving an offer from another team that the Sparks wouldn’t be able to match.

It could also play a factor in the Sparks hopes to re-sign Chiney Ogwumike. Chiney opted-out of the 2020 season and is set to return to the court. She’s very valuable to have off the bench and would strengthen the Sparks roster even more, but it might be difficult to bring her back.

Every championship team needs a well-rounded supporting cast, but star players are what ultimately win games. The Sparks should do everything in their power to ensure that the core three return, even if that means losing some of their bench depth. Role players can ultimately be replaced. Star talent doesn’t come around all that often.

As the WNBA free agent period inches closer, the Sparks’ focus needs to be on retaining their stars. Everything else comes after that.

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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