Curt Comes to LA: What it Means for Both Miller and the Sparks

33 Days into the WNBA off-season, the first significant move has taken place. After coaching the Connecticut Sun to the Finals, Curt Miller has parted ways with the organization and taken the helm of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Per reporting from Yahoo Sports, Miller will not be the GM, which he was for the past six seasons in Connecticut, along with his duties as head coach.

“I’m ready to work alongside our owners, players, and the entire organization to help build a team that will compete for WNBA championships and make our fans and partners proud. It’s a privilege to hold this position, and I’m committed to adding to the incredible basketball legacy of this city and franchise,” said Miller via press release.

Miller got his start in the W as an assistant with the Sparks in 2015 after coming up through the college ranks as the head coach at Bowling Green and Indiana.

The Sun now joins the Indiana Fever and Dallas Wings in head coaching searches.

What does this mean for the Sparks?

First and foremost, this is not entirely surprising, although the timing certainly is. Since the media day of this past season, the Sun has openly talked about 2022 being the last go-around for this core due to forthcoming free agency and salary cap restrictions. While it wasn’t set in stone that Miller would leave, nor was the writing written on the wall, it felt like a possibility.

The Sparks have just shy of a million dollars in cap space this off-season ($996,101), according to Her Hoop Stats. Here’s some helpful terminology for understanding the W CBA and free agency.

Katie Lou Samuelson (protected veteran) and Chennedy Carter (protected rookie scale) have guaranteed contracts in the coming season, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Jasmine Walker, and Rae Burrell all have unprotected contracts in the 2023 W season. Kianna Smith is a reserved free agent.

*Reserved Free Agent: (Per Her Hoop Stats) If a player’s contract has expired, but they have three or fewer years of service in the WNBA, they become “reserved.” That means that they can only negotiate with their previous team and are not allowed to discuss terms or sign with anyone else (unless released).

Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes, Lexie Brown, Jordin Canada, and Kristi Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Amanda Zahui B’s suspended contract expires. 

To say this team could look different next year is an understatement.

It will be interesting to find out more about what the Sparks view as their organizational direction, as a clean cap sheet provides immense flexibility. We’ll find out more at his eventual introductory presser (no date set currently), but it’s more possible than consensus thought seems to be that they approach this next era of Sparks basketball as a rebuilding effort.

Especially with Carter in place as one of the more intriguing young talents in the league, don’t be shocked if that’s the direction Los Angeles opts for. An important reminder: rebuilding does not mean tanking. Atlanta was a rebuilding team this past season and nearly made the playoffs. It’s about building a more sustainable future, and frankly, the Sparks lost that during the Derek Fisher era.

Yet, without owning their own first-round pick in the coming draft, the Sparks really need to succeed in free agency to rework their roster. 

If Nneka and Chiney were to re-sign, there’s an immense amount of room for the incoming front office to work with to calibrate a more successful core. Their off-season is remarkably intriguing, and I can’t wait to gain more insight into how they plan to approach.

Regardless of direction, this is an enticing step for the franchise. Miller is a very good coach. He loves the teaching, learning, and development of talent. While we don’t know what the roster will look like, Miller will undoubtedly stamp his “pillars” of preparation in Los Angeles.

What does this mean for the Sun?

Jen Rizzotti, the team president of the Sun, put out a statement via Sun Public Relations this afternoon.

She thanked Miller for his time and dedication to the organization, stated that she and Miller have had multiple conversations about the future over the past few weeks, and made it apparent that this is an amicable departure.

“As I look to our future, I know we have all the pieces in place to be a championship contender again next year; we look forward to finding the right person to lead our team,” closes Rizzotti.

Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner, Jasmine Thomas, and Alyssa Thomas are all on protected veteran contracts this coming season, with Alyssa being the only one signed through 2024.

Nia Clouden and Dijonai Carrington are both on unprotected contracts in 2023, and Joyner Holmes is a reserved free agent.

Natisha Hiedeman is a restricted free agent this off-season. Both Brionna Jones and Courtney Williams are unrestricted free agents.

While the Sun has ~$436k to work with in free agency, retooling this roster to balance it out will be a tall task for whoever takes over as GM. There’s immense talent on the Sun, but finding the personnel to reinvent their style of play slightly seems imperative. The Sun finished 11th in points generated from beyond the arc in 2022, 8th in 2021, and 10th in 2020. Three-point shooting isn’t everything, but it is stark how much the Sun has lacked adequate shooting. Losing Jasmine Thomas early in the season was a significant hit to their spacing and guard play, but not the only factor.

Reigning Sixth Woman of the Year and multi-time All-Star Bri Jones is due for a substantial pay raise. She’s simply too good to come off the bench for another season and is one of the most sought-after free agents this off-season.

I’m really interested to see how Connecticut handles this. This team just made the Finals, their second in four years, and this core is of that standard and ilk. Their overall success should not be lost in parsing through what’s next. It is really darn hard to win a championship. But, it’s all but written in stone that we’re going to see some departures from this group as they look to reroute and find a new path forward to their pursuit of a title.

With the Sun job opening up, it’s fascinating to contemplate the impact on league coaching searches. This job undoubtedly comes with different expectations and a different timeline than what should be expected in Indiana and Dallas. 

The WNBA off-season has finally started, and it started raucously.

WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.