June 9, 2022
LA Sparks part ways with Derek Fisher
After getting off to a slow start, the Sparks decided to move on from head coach and general manager Derek Fisher
The Los Angeles Sparks made a somewhat surprising and big move on Tuesday afternoon when they announced they were parting ways with head coach and general manager Derek Fisher. The move came on the heels of a disappointing 81-76 loss on Sunday afternoon against the struggling Phoenix Mercury.
The move was surprising because it happened right in the middle of the season. But the precedent was perhaps set a couple of weeks ago when the Indiana Fever let go of head coach Marianne Stanley. In the meantime, assistant coach Fred Williams will serve as interim head coach. He had previously committed to joining Johnnie Harris’ staff as an assistant with Auburn women’s basketball and was set to leave the Sparks before the end of the season. Instead, he will now remain with the team for the duration of the season.
After an offseason of major acquisitions and high expectations, the Sparks have gotten off to a 5-7 start, including a recent five-game losing streak. But they have played nine of their first 12 games on the road, affecting the amount of practice time they have when trying to integrate a slew of new players.
In the three seasons, before Fisher was head coach, there were extenuating circumstances that could be chalked up as to why the Sparks may not have had the type of success they were hoping for.
2019 was Fisher’s first year as head coach after only having coaching experience in the NBA. Chalk it up to him figuring out the women’s game. They still had a rather successful regular season and won a playoff round against the Seattle Storm before falling to a better Connecticut Sun team.
2020 was just an abnormal year altogether, being stuck in the bubble amidst a raging global pandemic. However, it was still a solid regular season before falling to the Sun once again, with Nneka Ogwumike being unavailable to play in the single-elimination game.
Last season, the Sparks lost a couple of major free agents and franchise cornerstones and had to deal with a rotating lineup due to injuries. This was the first season in Fisher’s tenure that felt like he had the roster and the experience to make some noise.
Ultimately, coaching is a results-driven profession and the slow start certainly didn’t help things in the eyes of Sparks’ upper brass.
And now, the job of righting the ship will be tasked to Williams, who does bring a wealth of coaching experience in the women’s game. Williams held his first media availability as Sparks head coach on Wednesday afternoon and his message to the team was quite simple.
“First message is the rules that I have. Be on time, work hard and have fun; that’s it, you break those rules and you’re in trouble,” Williams said. “But I think the message for everyone is just to go harder, push harder, take one possession at a time, one day at a time and if you do that, you keep your value up every day as a player and as a staff and as a franchise, it makes you better.”
As far as any major differences between him and Fisher, Williams doesn’t anticipate anything drastically different outside of some basketball terminology here and there. There are no plans as of now to add anyone else to the coaching staff. So Williams will ride the season out alongside assistant coaches Latricia Trammell and Seimone Augustus.
“Every coach has their style of things, my thing is just to get up and down a little bit more in practice some, still keep the foundation of shell defense. . .but a combination of everybody being involved,” Williams said. “I think the thing is just terminology, certain things we’ll do on the offensive end. You’ll see a little bit more uptempo offensively and defensively, just getting a little bit more aggressive on the ball and a lot more help.”
From the player’s perspective, they’re not expecting any drastic changes either because Williams has also been on the sidelines for the past couple of seasons. For Nneka Ogwumike, this is the third time in her career that she’s experienced an abrupt coaching change.
As one of the leaders of the team, she was one of the first players Williams reached out to gauge the temperature of the team. And to get some insight as to what she saw on the court. The way she sees it, the number one thing she wants to do is to make sure the team is still a tight-knit group.
“Change is change; it’s, as people say, the only constant. As a player in this organization, it’s not something you expect. It’s not something that you necessarily are excited about when it happens suddenly,” Ogwumike said during her media availability on Wednesday afternoon. “But I’ve just been locked in with my team, just making sure that we’re all still tight in the locker room.”
Brittney Sykes, who, outside of Nneka and Chiney, is now one of the longest-tenured players on the roster, also gave her thoughts on the coaching change during her availability after practice on Wednesday. She echoed Nneka’s sentiments that she doesn’t expect anything to be radically different.
“I could see it changing if we had a whole brand new coach, but we have somebody here who’s been with the program,” Sykes said. “Of course, he’s his own man, his own head coach. So whatever he sees fit for us and so be it, but I think the goal was always going to be to win a championship. . .the ultimate goal is obviously the postseason.”
The Sparks are still a team that believes they have the pieces to be a legit threat this season and come playoff time. A new coach doesn’t change that at all. If anything, under Williams, the Sparks are doubling down on their season slogan, ‘time to show.’ And that time to show is now.
“We’ll just continue on a lot of the goals that we have set forth for our team and that’s, for one, to get better each day. I know it’s kind of a cliche thing but get better each day individually and collectively as a unit,” Williams said. “Our goal is definitely to be in that playoff spot towards the end of the season and have an opportunity to compete for a title.”
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.