July 5, 2024 

Amid eight-game losing streak, Sparks’ Curt Miller remains focused on ‘unintended consequences’ 

Miller: 'I thrive in the process of building'

Los Angeles Sparks head coach Curt Miller often talks about the possibility of positive unintended consequences. Amid the Sparks’ recent 0-8 skid punctuated by absences of key players like Lexie Brown, Layshia Clarendon and Cameron Brink, Miller returned to his mantra.

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Ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Washington Mystics, Coach Miller told reporters: “The unintended consequences of injuries and illness is what I’m always going to stick to — it’s what my career has been defined by as a head coach.”  

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While Miller says that this season is one of the toughest he’s ever had as a coach — particularly when it comes to the record column — he’s embracing the adversity, creating learning opportunities for his young team. He says the Sparks are “sticking together through thick and thin” with the mantra that “we’ve got to go through it.”

One unintended consequence of the Sparks’ rough season that’s been clear, while it may not be showing up in the win-loss column yet, is bench production. In fact “bench production” may no longer be an accurate descriptor on a team that has had nine players start at least two games this year. 

With veteran Azurá Stevens still out with an injury, and Brink now out for the season, only one post player — All-Star Dearica Hamby — has started all 19 games this year. In the guard spot, only Kia Nurse has started every game. The Sparks lead the WNBA in bench point production, averaging 25.8 points per game, accounting for 33% of the team’s total points per game. 

Young players like guard Zia Cooke have had flashes of energy in the absence of core guard players. After scoring 25 points total through the first 12 games of the season, Cooke had back-to-back 13- and 14-point games in June’s losses to the New York Liberty. When it comes to being ready “when her number gets called,” as Miller likes to say, she credits her “running back mentality.” 

She’s not the only one. Wing Rae Burrell has seen the impact of unintended consequences, with huge increases in production in her 11 minutes per game. While she averages only 4.1 points per game, her efficiency is notable — that’s an average of 15 points per 40 minutes. 

Guard Aari McDonald is averaging seven assists per 40 minutes of play, and has established herself as an essential floor general and key piece for the Sparks. Like her teammates, she’s balancing the positives of adversity and the a desire to win, telling reporters “We’re tired of the moral victories. We are growing each game, but we’ve got to play and put it all together for 40 minutes and I think we’ll be alright.” 

As the Sparks move into the month of July, there’s one echoing sentiment: they want to start closing out some games. But there’s also a (perhaps unexpected) hum of positivity. They have two Olympians: Kia Nurse will play for Team Canada and Dearica Hamby will fill Cameron Brink’s spot on the Team USA 3×3 team. Hamby was just named to her third WNBA All-Star Game. Rookie Rickea Jackson is playing with more consistency, and players like Stephanie Talbot and Li Yueru are finding their strides on a new team. Perhaps most importantly, “this group is tight,” as Miller says. It shows on the court: they have an assisted shot rate of 72%, putting them at fourth in the league. 

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Miller appreciates the challenges that come with developing a team of young players, a contrast from the Connecticut Sun roster that he previously coached.

“This is why I left the team [that] I knew could win 30 games a year. I thrive in building. I thrive in the process of building and teaching … I’m teaching again. It’s not easy.” 

When asked about their recent skid, Miller says, “I’m not silly. There [have been] 17 coaches in 27 years here. The stopwatch doesn’t stop. It’s going to tick on me, just [as it did] before me. But I’m really enjoying this group. Learning and teaching and we know great days are ahead.” 

Written by Cameron Ruby

Cameron Ruby has been a contributing writer for The Next since April 2023. She is a Bay Area native currently living in Los Angeles.

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