Leslie expects Parker back in late June

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (AP) -- Lisa Leslie wants another championship. And she's expecting to have Candace Parker back in late June to help make it happen.

Leslie, who will retire at the end of this season, said she expects Parker back in practice in late June. The All-Star gave the projected date on Wednesday when the Los Angeles Sparks held their media day.

Parker, the reigning WNBA MVP and rookie of the year, had a girl in mid-May and is expected to be out for an undetermined part of the season.

But Leslie, who wants to go out with a title, said that time should be sooner than later.

"I think Candace is going to come in when she knows she's effective and she can contribute,'' Leslie said. "I think the beautiful part of it is that she is young enough that she will be able to do it faster than any of us here that have been able to do it. I would say by the end of June she would be in practice.''

Is that soon enough?

Maybe not, but the Sparks' front office stocked up with enough front court talent in case Parker isn't available until later.

Los Angeles signed Tina Thompson to a 3-year contract and extended the contract of veteran forward DeLisha Milton-Jones.

Thompson averaged 18.1 points and 6.9 rebounds last year while playing with the Houston Comets. That team folded and others came calling.

Milton-Jones was third on the team in scoring behind Parker and Leslie with 13.9 points.

The Sparks also picked up All-Star guard Betty Lennox in a move to tweak their transition game. Lennox, the 2000 rookie of the year, led the Seattle Storm to a championship in 2004 and was the finals MVP.

"We lacked points in our transition game and we didn't get what we thought we would and Betty can certainly help with that,'' said coach Michael Cooper, who will end his tenure with the Sparks after this season to coach the USC women's team.

"Everybody needs to help fill Candace's void and Tina and Betty will make that transition smooth.''

Parker's void is a big one. She averaged 18.5 points, led the league in rebounds with 9.5 and also registered 2.3 blocks.

Thompson's return to Southern California - she played at USC and has a home in Highland Park - came as a relief to Leslie, who cajoled her former Olympic teammate to join the Sparks at last year's NBA All-Star game.

"She's a great teammate and we have great chemistry and for me, it was a no-brainer. It's a perfect fit,'' Leslie said. "I would have been annoyed if she was on any other team. That would have been a traitor. Fortunately, our GM did her homework.''

Leslie isn't the only one focused on the finals and her teammates want to send her and Cooper out on a high note.

"I think it's a silent incentive,'' Milton-Jones said. "Of course, if the time comes and we do win one then it will be like 'This Bud's for you,' of course. We know that both want to finish on top and we're going to give it our all to make sure it happens.''

Los Angeles opens the season at home on June 6 against Detroit, the defending champions.

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