July 27, 2022
Inside Liz Cambage’s last days with the Los Angeles Sparks
Prized free agent signing was never able to find her groove in Los Angeles
About a month and a half after parting ways with head coach and general manager Derek Fisher, the Los Angeles Sparks sent shockwaves throughout the WNBA once again with the announcement that Liz Cambage would be leaving the team.
The announcement came Tuesday morning amid circulating rumors on social media that the move was in the works. Liz Cambage was the Sparks’ marquee free agent signing in the offseason after smaller moves enabled the team to free up enough cap space to sign her.
The team was hoping that a healthy and rejuvenated Cambage would return closer to her 2018 form when she was in Dallas and averaged a career-best 23 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Instead, Cambage’s numbers were on par with her lowest numbers since her rookie season in 2011.
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Throughout the first half of the season, Cambage was inconsistent on the offensive end. She began the season with 11 straight games scoring in double digits and followed that up with six games in a row failing to crack 10 points.
She also was not shy about her perceived lack of respect from the officials. In a win over the Phoenix Mercury on July 4, Cambage picked up a technical foul and expanded a bit on that in a postgame media session.
“That’s like my whole game, is being frustrated … it’s another day in the office,” Cambage said. “My girls, my teammates keep me in check, keep me in line.”
The officiating and how to deal with it was something that Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams discussed with Cambage. Back on June 21 in a win over the Washington Mystics, Cambage fouled out in 22 minutes of play.
After that game, Williams spoke at length regarding Cambage and the officiating and shared some details of their discussions.
“I keep telling her to keep your hands up, don’t use the other hand and the main thing is keep at it … A lot of it is not her fault; there’s a lot of times where players are hanging on her and she kind of shrugs it off,” Williams said. “She’s 6’9, so you’re gonna be exploited that way; the referees are gonna see that, so they’re gonna call what they want to call and that’s fair. She’s just trying to play through it, and we have the best officials in the world, in my opinion.”
And as of early July, Williams mentioned that Cambage’s conditioning was still not where he would have liked it to be. Williams had settled on a rotation that had Cambage being subbed out after a couple of first-quarter minutes and replacing her with Chiney Ogwumike.
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After the July 4 win over the Mercury, Williams explained his substitutions with Cambage.
“I think our sub pattern with Liz is making sure she doesn’t get too winded where she doesn’t produce. I think she’s learning now how to position herself a little more to the basket, and when she does that, she’s getting a plus sign versus a minus sign,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can get her in the average of 31, 32 minutes down the stretch … Liz should be around that 28 to 32 mark by All-Star break.”
For most of July, Cambage did appear to be rounding back into form. She started off the month with a 22-point, 11-rebound effort in a win on the road against the Dallas Wings. She followed that up with a 16-point, eight-rebound game in a win over the New York Liberty. And she capped off a three-game win streak with a 19-point, seven-rebound game against the Mercury.
She played a couple more games before she was placed in health and safety protocols that caused her to miss two games. She returned to the lineup on July 21 in a win over the Atlanta Dream and came off the bench. She had eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
In the Sparks’ most recent game, a loss on the road against the Las Vegas Aces, Cambage returned to the starting lineup and put up 11 points and five rebounds in what ultimately became her final game in a Sparks jersey.
Cambage’s departure opens the door for a power forward/center pairing of Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike. Chiney has been having a bounce-back year after dealing with nagging injuries last season. The Ogwumike frontcourt has actually been one of the Sparks’ most productive lineups. Chiney’s probable move to the starting lineup also opens up minutes for rookie center Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who has been a pleasant surprise for the team this season.
Neither Chiney nor Nelson-Ododa have Cambage’s scoring prowess, but their activity on the glass and on the defensive end make a good pairing with Nneka. The departure should also open up some room in the paint for Nneka, who is having an MVP-type season, to operate as well.
Before the start of the season, the Sparks had a very talented roster on paper, but getting all the pieces to fit was going to be the toughest part. Throughout the season, various players have spoken about how they were still ironing out the on court chemistry and how they felt like they were on the cusp of finally putting it all together.
The Sparks have been playing better basketball since May, and there is enough talent on the team, even with Cambage’s absence, to sneak into the playoffs. Their next game is Thursday, July 29 on the road against the Mercury with major playoff implications on the line. The Sparks sit at 12-15 and currently in sixth place while the Mercury are 12-16 and in ninth, but a mere half a game back of the Sparks.
Written by David 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.