August 15, 2022
Los Angeles Sparks reflect on end of a chaotic season
'I'm tired of losing'
For the second straight season, there will be no playoffs for the Los Angeles Sparks. Their fate was actually decided last Thursday after a loss to the Connecticut Sun, making Sunday’s game against the Dallas Wings a mere formality. But the curtain has officially closed on the Sparks 2022 season.
It was an interesting season, to say the least. For a team that made some high-profile acquisitions in the offseason and had some high expectations, they ended up firing head coach and general manager Derek Fisher, dealt with Liz Camabage leaving the team abruptly and finished the season losing nine of their last ten games and heading into a future that looks very uncertain.
Half of the roster is set to become free agents including Nneka Ogwumike. But despite the disappointing season, the organization could perhaps breathe a sigh of relief following Sunday’s loss as Ogwumike seemed to give a solid answer as to her potential future with the only franchise she’s ever known.
Although Ogwumike did not suit up against Dallas, she was available to the media postgame for her annual exit interview. She gave an emphatic ‘no’ when asked if she has ever thought about leaving for another team.
“I would love to be back,” Ogwumike said. “I would describe this season as like living in a house that you didn’t build. So next year we can build our own house. I know the floor plan next year.”
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Following the end of the season, Ogwumike is not the only high-profile member of the organization that is going to have to make a decision about their future. Aside from Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes has probably been the most consistent player on the team on both ends of the floor. Sykes only missed four games this season due to being in league health and safety protocols but aside from that, she’s been one of the team’s most dependable players.
When she first arrived in 2020 after coming over in a trade with the Atlanta Dream, Sykes immediately became a fixture in the team’s defense and got to the point where she’s now a perennial All-Defensive team candidate.
On the other end of the floor, Sykes was always seen as a slashing guard, someone who could get to the rim and put pressure on the defense. She also has worked on her shooting to be able to stretch the floor more consistently, but this season she was put into roles a little bit outside her comfort zone. She’s also set to become a free agent.
In her postgame media session, she emphasized that she isn’t ready to think about her future yet and she’ll do so after she takes a much-needed vacation, but in an emotional moment, she acknowledged the toll this season took on her and the main thing she was able to take away from such a trying year.
“I think the biggest one for me personally is having to figure out a way to come to work every day when you don’t want to do it. I think that was the biggest lesson for me,” Sykes said. “This season was hard. There were a lot of times this season where I was like, ‘hey I don’t want to do it, I’m tired of losing.’ But then I remember why I play, I remember who’s on my team.”
“Just making sure I got up every day and made sure I came to work because my teammates deserved that. And my biggest thing is I’m never going to disrespect the game. . .I’m proud of my team. I’m proud of us because we could have given up in May, but we didn’t and we still had those chances. I’m really proud of us. But getting up and just wanting it every day, I mean I do, but it was hard, it was hard.”
For Ogwumike, one of the key areas she continued to grow as a player was in her role as the team’s leader. Going through such a tough season, she became the one constant, the one player that everyone in the locker room looked to for support and encouragement especially when things were not going so well.
She explained that being a leader meant that something different may be required from her on a day-to-day basis and that she learned that it was okay if she didn’t quite know how to respond all the time.
“It’s not needing to have all the answers and that being okay, especially someone in my position where a lot of people look to me for the answers and it being okay that you don’t always have all the answers,” Ogwumike said. “Sometimes things just happen and you just have to give your best self every day. And it may look like 35 points, it may look like encouraging a teammate, it may look like laying in your bed instead of going out somewhere.”
Who will lead the Sparks?
Aside from the team’s top players, the Sparks also have a major decision to make regarding the helm. Interim head coach Fred Williams was actually set to depart from the team at one point before the season ended to take an assistant coaching job with the Auburn women’s basketball team. When Fisher was let go, Williams was named interim head coach and needed to stay on.
As of now, he is still under consideration for full-time head coach and in his postgame media session, he acknowledged that he would like to remain with the team as head coach.
“This is my hometown, I love being here in LA, the people and the fans, and I love coaching this team. I love being a part of the Sparks family,” Williams said. “I feel like a big part of this. I know that we can be better than what we have done this past season but our record didn’t indicate that.”
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Williams also emphasized the difficulty in being tasked to lead the team so quickly, but he agreed with Ogwumike’s building a house analogy in that he is confident that with some real structure and a real plan, things can turn around rather quickly.
“There’s certain furniture that you keep and certain furniture that you take out,” Williams said. “We’ve kind of had to cut and paste some things together here and it’s got to be where we can put all the pieces together from the beginning. It’s on my end to get the right products out there for us. The ladies that we’ve had out there have really grown and tried for us, but I think being healthy and getting a full training camp with some of the things we implemented, it will feel more of a home rather than being placed over our head.”