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2021 WNBA Team Preview: Los Angeles Sparks

From one historic season to another, the WNBA’s 25th season is set to tip-off on May 14th. The league will commemorate the 25th season with a campaign, “Count It” and a distinguishing and purposeful 25th season logo. The WNBA will also celebrate the ways its players have shattered expectations and have stood at the forefront of advancement, inclusion, and social change for 25 years.

In the lead up to the season, WNBA.com will break down each team in the league. Next up: the Los Angeles Sparks.

It is a new era for the Los Angeles Sparks. Candace Parker – a two-time MVP and the face of the franchise for the past 13 years – is now in Chicago. Chelsea Gray – a three-time All-Star “point gawd” is now in Las Vegas, along with key reserve Riquna Williams. That is three of the team’s top four scorers from the 2020 season now out of L.A. Then on Thursday, on the eve of L.A.’s season opener, four-time WNBA champion Seimone Augustus announced her retirement and new role as an assistant coach with the Sparks.

While the Sparks said farewell to those four players, they also welcome back a pair of All-Stars that did not participate in the 2020 “Wubble” season: Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver. Ogwumike joined the Sparks in 2019 and is ready to start season two alongside her sister Nneka; Toliver is starting her second stint with the Sparks – she was with the team from 2010 through their championship run in 2016 before moving to Washington and helping the Mystics win their first title in 2019.

Along with the returning players from 2020 – led by 2016 league MVP Nneka Ogwumike and and All-Defensive guard Brittney Sykes – the Sparks also have some new faces to add into the mix, which we’ll get to shortly. Overall, there has been plenty of roster turnover from last season, and it may take some time for head coach Derek Fisher (entering his third season) and the players to find their way.

2020 Season Recap

  • 15-7, 3rd Place in League
  • Eliminated in the second round of playoffs by Connecticut

Offseason Moves

In addition to getting Chiney and Toliver back for 2021, the Sparks also added players through free agency and the draft to round out the roster. The Sparks signed veterans Erica Wheeler (2019 All-Star MVP), Amanda Zahui B (former No. 2 overall pick), as well as Nia Coffey and Bria Holmes (former first round picks) in free agency.

The Sparks also added a a pair of promising rookies in power forward Jasmine Walker and guard Arella Guirantes, who somehow fell to No. 22 after being projected as a potential lottery pick.

The Sparks also made a move for the future in acquiring forward Gabby Williams in a trade with the Chicago Sky for the rights to a pair of draft picks (Stephanie Watts, No. 10 in 2021; Leonie Fiebich, No. 22 in 2020). Williams is on the suspended list for 2021 as she trains with the French National Team for the upcoming Olympics, but the former No. 4 overall pick adds more talent to the squad in years to come.

One Big Question Heading Into 2021

How long will it take for this team to find chemistry?

Between the players returning from 2020, the players returning who missed 2020, the free agents signed and the rookies drafted, the Sparks have plenty of talent on their roster. But anytime a team loses so many key players (Parker, Gray, Willams and Augustus accounted for 52.3% of L.A.’s points and 47.7% of minutes played), it’s going to take some time to find the right combinations, lineups, and strategies to maximize the new roster and make up for that missing production.

Having a healthy Nneka Ogwumike will also go a long ways towards those efforts. Nneka averages career lows in scoring (13.3 PPG), rebounds (4.8 RPG), steals (1.1 SPG) and blocks (0.2 BPG) in 2020 as she was limited to 18 games while dealing with back issues and migraines throughout the season. As she outlined in her Player’s Tribune article (Hindsight in 2020), last year was especially tough for Nneka as she had to balance her responsibilities as a player and president of the WNBPA. What will a rejuvenated and motivated Nneka Ogwumike look like in 2021?

WNBA Draft Ranking

Following the 2021 WNBA Draft, Michelle Smith ranked every team’s draft decisions. She rated the Sparks 4th out of the 12 WNBA teams.

“The Sparks made a trade to get the No. 7 pick and then took power forward Jasmine Walker from Alabama to fill a position of need (size and scoring from the wing) and then turned out to be the beneficiary of a surprising fall for Rutgers guard Arella Guirantes, who they were able to grab at No. 22. Guirantes, projected to be a top five pick, is going to be a player with a lot to prove. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in training camp.”

Where to Watch

The Sparks open the 2021 season hosting the Dallas Wings on Friday, May 14 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Facebook.