January 14, 2024
2024 WNBA free agency preview: Los Angeles Sparks
The Sparks head into the WNBA free agency period with a lot of decisions to make.
With the WNBA free agency period set to begin in just a couple of weeks, the Los Angeles Sparks find themselves in an interesting position.
They were able to secure the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and they also head into the free agency period with quite a bit of available cap space, per HerHoopsStats. That’s not to say that the Sparks are definitely going to make a major splash in free agency. That cap space is likely to dwindle once they re-sign their own free agents.
Free agency is going to be very important for the Sparks as it’s going to factor in to how they approach the draft. By the time the Sparks are on the clock in April and they know who is (and, perhaps more importantly, who isn’t) available for them to draft, the majority of their roster will already be set. It’s always a good notion for teams to approach the draft with the intention of selecting the best player available rather than draft based on roster composition, but what the Sparks do in free agency will have some impact on their draft needs.
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Oh, and the Sparks will have a new general manager leading the team, with Raegan Pebley looking forward in anticipation to the free agency period.
“As far as free agency goes, it’s obviously a part of the process. It’s going to happen every single season and I think it’s an exciting time for teams, organizations, fans and I’ve loved seeing how the media has really got involved into this space and just added to the buzz and the energy of what’s happening,” Pebley said during her introductory media availability. “Obviously LA’s got some work to do, but my first priority has been to really just try to build relationships with the people that are currently in the organization and that includes the players.”
While on the court talent and fit with head coach Curt Miller’s system is obviously going to factor in to the Sparks free agent plans, Pebley stressed that off the court factors are going to play a role as well.
She was impressed with the culture that Miller helped establish in his first year on the job and adding high character players who can make an impact off the court in the locker room as well is going to be a high priority. One of the things that Pebley is counting on when it comes to either re-signing or adding free agents is her ability to help establish a strong culture and continue to build on the foundation by Miller.
“Each free agent is going to go through their own individual process, it’s not as easy as just take the same approach with every single person,” Pebley said during her introductory media availability. “My strengths lie in relationship building and culture building and resourcing a team … I’m just going to continue to lead with that because I think that is such a solid foundation.”
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So what could the Sparks roster look like after free agency? The first item on the Sparks agenda should be to re-sign Nneka Ogwumike. The franchise cornerstone is set to hit unrestricted free agency for the second straight offseason. Despite that, she has never wavered in her desire to remain with the team long-term. That’s not to say that it’s a forgone conclusion that she will re-sign with the Sparks, just that the chances of her bolting in free agency is rather slim.
That brings the Sparks to the next item on the free agency agenda, Jordin Canada. Under a new coach, new system and a more defined role, Canada emerged as a top candidate for the Most Improved Player Award. Canada put up career-highs across the board (13.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 33.3 percent 3-point shooting) and is set to hit unrestricted free agency as well. That’s not bad for a player who arrived on a non-guaranteed training camp contract.
Canada is most certainly in line for a pay raise and will definitely have interest across the league. Good point guards at the starting level are not easy to find. The question becomes what kind of offers are going to be out there for Canada?
The Sparks should do everything in their power to bring Canada back. Last season was much more of a sample of what Canada can do with consistent starter minutes than the mess that was the 2022 season. She’s among the top floor leaders in the WNBA as well as an elite defensive player. Her three-point percentage and willingness to take more three-point shots (career-high 3.2 attempts) was very encouraging.
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For argument’s sake, let’s say the Sparks do re-sign Canada to go along with Ogwumike. Things get a little bit murkier for the rest of their free agents. Chiney Ogwumike, Jasmine Thomas, Layshia Clarendon, Katie Lou Samuelson and Karlie Samuelson are all set to hit unrestricted free agency as well. Out of that group, nobody stands out in terms of saying the Sparks need to have them back.
The majority of them dealt extensively with injuries last season. The one player that the Sparks might like to have back is Katie Lou Samuelson. Having sat out last season due to childbirth, Katie Lou figured to be a key player in the rotation as a stretch four/big three. She had a pretty solid year in 2022 and it’s worth seeing what she can do in a stable system under a new coach.
Otherwise, some tough decisions are going to have to be made regarding a few locker room favorites from last season. What’s hurt the Sparks at times is the absence of a reliable backup center/big in the second unit. There are a couple of names on the free agent list such as former Spark Kalani Brown, Megan Gustafson and Alanna Smith that the Sparks should inquire about.
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The three players the Sparks have under contract on guaranteed deals for next season are Azurá Stevens, Dearica Hamby and Stephanie Talbot. Stevens and Hamby were solid last year. The team will get their first look at Talbot in Sparks jersey. She missed all of last season due to injury and figured to be a major factor on the court.
Lexie Brown, Zia Cooke and Nia Clouden are on unprotected contracts. It’s a safe bet to say Brown will be back and most likely Cooke as well. The Sparks are high on Cooke’s talent and she’s been featured in many of the Sparks offseason community efforts. Clouden was sidelined nearly all of last season due to injury and she almost certainly won’t be back.
With the expected re-signing of Ogwumike and the possible re-signing of Canada, that would bring the Sparks roster to seven players. They also have the No. 2 and No. 12 picks in the draft which could potentially bring them to nine players with three slots left to address.
Those spots should go to a backup big, a backup point guard and shooting wing. If the Sparks can come out of free agency with Katie Lou re-signed, someone like Lindsay Allen as the backup point guard and someone like Kalani Brown, Megan Gustafson, Alanna Smith as the backup big, that would be a winning offseason for them.
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Written by David Mendez-Yapkowitz
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.