The Los Angeles Sparks are a team looking to make their way back into the upper reaches of the NBA standings. In fact, they have not made the playoffs since their now ex-coach, Derek Fisher, sensationally benched superstar Candace Parker late in the series when it was still all there to be played for. This was one of the reasons that Parker went home to Chicago and was able to win a championship with the Sky.
In the two seasons since the superstar left, the Sparks have not recorded a winning season. For a team that has only missed the playoffs twice in a row once before, this is a bitter pill to swallow. In fact, during the Parker era in Los Angeles, the Sparks only missed the playoffs once. That started back in 2008 and ended in 2020. They won the Finals once during that time as well.
So, how do they get back to that level of success? Well, it is not going to be on the back of their first round pick, Zia Cooke, who was taken with the 10th pick of the 2023 WNBA draft. She is an explosive guard who uses her speed to get the rim, is solid from the mid-range, and shot the 3-ball at 35% during her final year of college at South Carolina.
Their second-round draft choice, Shaneice Swain is another offensively-minded guard who spent last season honing her skills in the Australian WNBL, however, for all the brilliance that we see from a passing point of view, she turns the ball over at a very high rate. Where she is going to benefit the team is from beyond the arc. Swain and Cooke have the potential to move the Sparks 3-point offense from last in the league to somewhere closer to the median which should move them back into playoff contention.
They treid to bolster their defense which was one of the worst in the league last season by signing Stephanie Talbot. However, the Aussie stopper injured her knee while playing for the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL and will miss the entire 2023 WNBA season. However, the trades that landed them Jasmine Thomas, and Dearica Hamby, when she returns from giving borth to her second child, will bolster the Sparks.
However, it was not player signings which has the most potential to bring the Sparks back to relevance this season, but their change to their head coach.After sacking head coach Derek Fisher early-on last season, they installed Fred Williams, who ended up with a 8-16 record. This was obviously not good eough to get him the full-time job. This was especially the case when a coach the calibre of Curt Miller became available. Miller took the Connecticut Sun from a bottom four team to perennial contenders and the Sparks will be hoping that he can do the same over the coming seasons.
Signing Azura Stevens and Lexie Brown will also go a long way to helping the Sparks acheive this goal. The Sparks are not wasting any time trying to get to the place that they believe that they should be. Can they acheive it this season? That will all depend on how the players respond to Miller’s message and the buy-in that he can inspire.