Season Preview 2010: Los Angeles Sparks

Delisha Milton-Jones, Candace Parker and Tina Thompson
Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images

Season Outlook

Lisa Leslie had been the cornerstone of the Los Angeles Sparks since the league tipped off its opening game on June 21, 1997. She literally was a part of the opening tip of the first game in league history. Two championships, three league MVPs and seven All-Star selections followed. After 13 years and 12 seasons of play, Leslie decided to hang ‘em up, bringing her remarkable career to a close at the end of the 2009 season.

The post-Lisa Leslie era begins now for the Sparks.

It may not be easy, or even possible for that matter, to replace a player of such legendary status, but the Sparks are ready to try. When it comes to rising potential and talent, the Sparks turn to Candace Parker, a player that took the league by storm in 2008, winning Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in the same season.

“Candace can help play some of that role, using some of her height down low and her ability to work inside and outside,” said former Spark and first-year head coach Jennifer Gillom.

Parker led the league in rebounding last season, averaging an astounding 9.8 per game. So while she definitely has the size and skill to play on the block, doing so on a night in and night out basis is something she has not had to do in the WNBA. What makes Parker such a unique talent is her ability to play all positions on the floor; will taking over duties at center confine some of those skills?

For two straight seasons the Sparks were the preseason favorites to win it all. And, in two straight seasons, the Sparks have, well, not. During Parker’s rookie year in 2008, L.A. was favored to win but couldn’t pass San Antonio thanks in large part to Sophia Young’s buzzer beater in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. In 2009, Leslie’s final season, the Sparks once again fell in the Conference Finals, this time to the eventual champion Phoenix Mercury.

“Their expectations have always been high. I don’t see why it should change at all,” said Gillom. “I think they still have the talented players that it takes to win championships. They’re coming in with a winning state of mind and if you come in trying to achieve that then I think we can do it this year.”

One talented player that Gillom believes will break out this season is Noelle Quinn. The three-year guard out of UCLA led the team last season in APG and tied DeLisha Milton-Jones at 1.2 SPG. However, those two aspects are only a small part of Quinn’s game.

“She is just showing some great practices and is just stepping up her game in every aspect,” praised Gillom. “She’s on the board everywhere. She gets steals, rebounds, assists; she is just playing consistently in practice every day.”

In an effort to boost experience and land a solid point guard, the Sparks signed free agent and 12-year vet Ticha Penicheiro. Penicheiro’s presence on the perimeter is something the Sparks will rely on not only for offensive production but also as a guide of sorts for some of the younger guards.

Frank Della Femina

Player on the Spot

It’s safe to assume that Candace Parker will be the player on the spot for Los Angeles this season. Whether she plays at center or remains a forward has little effect on that assumption, although it will certainly garner plenty of attention should Gillom look to put Parker under the basket. In the wake of Leslie’s retirement, the Sparks will be looking for that next franchise player to step up in a big way.

Parker led the league in rebounding and double-doubles last year despite missing eight games to start the season after giving birth to her first child. Now that she is back to 100 percent and could see increased time at the center position, expect those numbers to rise even further.

In spite of Parker’s outstanding rookie campaign, the Sparks were always Lisa Leslie’s team. Now that Leslie has retired, that title now sits with Parker. She’s been the franchise player at every point of her career and once again all eyes will be on her in L.A.

Frank Della Femina

Projected Lineup

G.Ticha Penicheiro
G.Noelle Quinn
F.DeLisha Milton-Jones
FTina Thompson
F/CCandace Parker

Players Added

G.Ticha Penicheiro
G.Andrea Riley

Players Lost

GKristi Harrower
CHa Eun Joo
CEmmeline Ndongue

2008 Leaders

PPGLisa Leslie15.4
RPGCandace Parker9.8
APGNoelle Quinn3.5
SPGDeLisha Milton-Jones, Noelle Quinn1.2
BPGCandace Parker2.1

Team Stats

Points Scored74.5(12th)
Points Allowed73.5(12th)
Field-Goal Percentage.430(Tie - 5th)
Opponents’ FG%.399(13th)
Rebounding Diff.+5.8(1st)