September 22, 2023
What comes next for the Sparks?
Sparks head into the offseason with firm goals in mind
The Los Angeles Sparks went through a lot of changes last offseason.
They revamped their front office, bringing in longtime WNBA executive Karen Bryant as the general manager. They brought in a brand new coaching staff spearheaded by Curt Miller who has had plenty of success as a head coach in the WNBA. They also overhauled the roster with plenty of new faces and key free agent signings to go alongside franchise player Nneka Ogwumike.
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But if the Sparks 2023 season can be summed up in one word, that word would be ‘injury.’
The team actually got off to a decent start to the season. By the end of the first month, the Sparks were sitting at 7-7. But that was when the injuries and absences started to pile up. It was around that time that the Sparks lost both of their starting wings: Lexie Brown to a non-COVID illness and Layshia Clarendon to a foot injury. They were already without Katie Lou Samuelson who was expecting her first child, and key free agent signing Stephanie Talbot who suffered a season-ending injury while playing overseas.
From that point on, it just seemed like the Sparks injury report was a revolving door of names. They suffered an eight-game losing streak that ran from June 28 through July 22. While they showed improvement towards the end of the season, that losing streak essentially had them playing catch up the rest of the year. As short-handed as they were, the odds were just too great to overcome.
It’s now the third straight season that the Sparks have missed the playoffs, something that Bryant doesn’t take lightly.
“Not making the playoffs for another season here in LA with this organization is not acceptable,” Bryant told reporters during an end of the season media availability. “We’re not satisfied, clearly. But we’re going to sit here and talk about all the things that we did accomplish. As we said in the very beginning, success was going to be defined more broadly than wins and losses and playoff berths.”
But with the 2023 season now in the past, the focus becomes continuing to build a winning roster that fits the vision put forward by Bryant and Miller. It’s going to be a critical offseason as half of the team is set to hit unrestricted free agency.
The only players under contract for next season are Lexie Brown, Azura Stevens, Dearica Hamby, Zia Cooke, Nia Clouden and Stephanie Talbot. Everyone else is set to hit the open market including Nneka Ogwumike for the second straight offseason. But even so, the Sparks brass doesn’t envision the roster looking drastically different from what it looked like this season.
“It’s early and we haven’t done a complete deep dive as a group. . .I think at this stage what I’d say is it’s going to look more similar than it does different,” Bryant said. “We need to add some really important pieces obviously. . .but I think you’ll see a lot of similarities. Continuity is a really important part of success in this league and we’re really mindful of that both in terms of roster construction but also staff and front office. We want to really leverage what we established this year and all that we built by going into ’24 with a premium on continuity.”
Another key area that the Sparks are focusing on when it comes to improving their roster is the WNBA Draft. The last time the Sparks were in the draft lottery was in 2012 when they had the No. 1 overall pick and used it to draft Nneka Ogwumike.
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Not only will the Sparks have a lottery pick with the third best odds at getting No. 1 overall again, they will have a second first round pick courtesy of the Las Vegas Aces from the Hamby trade. With NIL playing such a huge role among college players now and this being the final senior class with an extra COVID year of eligibility, at this point in the offseason the draft is a huge unknown.
It’s quite possible that the projected top picks right now looks completely different once the 2023-24 NCAA season ends. But that doesn’t mean the Sparks front office isn’t already hard at work identifying potential draft picks and how they would fit into their vision.
“We have to be thorough, we have to be prepared and be able to pivot as those players make those decisions at the end of the collegiate season,” Miller told reporters during an end of the season media availability. “But we’re excited that we’re going to have a lottery pick. We don’t know where that is quite yet, but also if the depth of the class turns out to be what it is capable of, having a second first round pick for us is exciting.”
While the Sparks vision for the future is still solid — building this team back up to the championship level the franchise had been accustomed to — a lot of unknowns still remain. Bryant and Miller did not anticipate the 2023 season being as injury-plagued as it was. As a result, there were some things on the court that the Sparks did not get to experiment with. A lot of what-ifs out there, but Miller is hopeful that it could come to fruition.
“There were some things we didn’t get to try. There were some things in a short amount of time that really worked,” Miller said. “We didn’t get to experiment after the beginning of the season much with bigger lineups. . .We just had limited amount of post depth so weren’t able to try some things. So with both spectrums, I think there’s some things that were very clear to us and there’s things that are still a little bit unclear because we just didn’t get to try this year.”
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.