January 25, 2024 

Where do the Sparks go after losing Nneka Ogwumike in free agency?

A rebuild, but it could be faster than you'd think

One of the first major dominoes in WNBA free agency fell on Wednesday with Los Angeles Sparks All-Star Nneka Ogwumike revealing that she intends to leave the franchise as a free agent.

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Ogwumike is one of the franchise’s all-time great players and one of the best to ever lace them up for any WNBA team. Sparks head coach Curt Miller took to social media to express his gratitude and to thank Ogwumike for helping with his career.

Ogwumike also took to social media to reflect on her time with the Sparks which included her winning the 2016 league MVP award as well as the championship. She will no doubt have Sparks fans heads spinning with her final sentence, but at least for the immediate future, the question becomes: where do the Sparks go from here?

Replacing her is no easy task, but that’s what new Sparks general manager Raegan Pebley is tasked with in her first offseason on the job.

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The Sparks suddenly find themselves with a ton of cap space, but they would be wise not to go out and spend it all trying to complete a quick fix. It does alter the timeline for contending for a championship, regardless of Los Angeles’ next moves.

Instead, the Sparks should take steps towards a complete rebuild. This team isn’t likely to win many games in 2024 and that’s okay.

What they can look forward to is the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft. They have the opportunity to draft a potential franchise talent who can be a cornerstone for years to come. There’s no guarantee whoever they draft will be anywhere as good is Ogwumike, but step one is getting the draft right.

Free agency takes a backseat now. Obviously the Sparks still have to fill out their roster, but what they should look for is young players who haven’t quite been given a real opportunity in the league yet.

An old friend in Arella Guirantes, who has been finding success overseas, should be on their radar. Players like Destanni Henderson, Emily Engstler and Ashley Joens come to mind.

And with this season being all about development, but the ball in Zia Cooke’s hands and let her cook. Give her every opportunity to show she can be a part of the Sparks’ long-term future.

Now it’s not always the best idea just to stack the roster with young players and let them just go out there and play. So the Sparks will certainly add some veterans looking to be a positive presence in the locker room.

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Additionally, head coach Curt Miller is committed to installing a system and bringing to fruition his vision for success. He’s often preached about being patient even as the team hoped to be competitive, and he’s a good leader to have at the helm as the direction has now changed.

Another thing the Sparks can look forward to is back-to-back lottery finishes. Back during Miller’s tenure in Connecticut with his dual role as head coach and general manager, he had an eye for talent. It’s impossible to judge Pebley yet as she doesn’t have a sample size with which to look at. But with Miller and assistant GM Eli Horowitz alongside her, the Sparks should feel good about being able to draft well.

At that point, money to spend, assuming a new CBA is in place with a larger salary cap, paired with young talent and a chance to play in Los Angeles should make the Sparks a destination.

In short: if Los Angeles manages to get the draft right this year and next year, this could be a quicker rebuild than anticipated.

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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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