Despite some roster changes, the Los Angeles Sparks have positioned themselves to make a solid attempt to repeat as WNBA Champions.
Los Angeles Sparks
Record last season: 26-8
Finished second in the WNBA, second in the Western Conference
Projected Starters/Potential Subs
Odyssey Sims/Chelsea Gray
Alana Beard/Riquna Williams
Essence Carson/Sydney Wiese/Jessica Jackson
Nneka Oguwmike/Tiffany Jackson-Jones
Candace Parker/Jantel Lavender
The Los Angeles Sparks truly had a wonderful season. There is simply no better way to end your season than by winning the championship. Out of all the titles Candace Parker has won over her career, she hadn’t been able to win a WNBA championship.
Until last season.
The Sparks won their third title in their team’s history and first under the ownership of Magic Johnson and his group. It was a magic ending not only for Parker but for Kristi Toliver, Nneka Oguwmike and Jantel Lavender who had been apart of many Sparks teams before that fell just short of winning the title.
The 2016 season was one that many labeled as Parker’s “revenge” season because USA Basketball left her off the 2016 Olympic team roster. It was also a tough off season for Parker as she was dealing with matters in her personal life and the loss of her beloved college coach Pat Summitt who passed away. It would seem Parker would be out to have one of the best seasons in her WNBA career, but actually it was her team mate Oguwmike who had a remarkable season.
Nneka Oguwmike, who also was left off the 2016 Olympic team, set her sights on the WNBA season and right from the start, was one of the best players in the league. She along with Tina Charles of the New York Liberty were constantly battling for MVP votes, day in and day out. She shot nearly 65 percent from the field and was very efficient. Brian Agler moved his roster that originally started Parker, Oguwmike and Lavender in the previous season by moving Lavender to the bench. This benefited Oguwmike by allowing her more room in the post and made Parker and Oguwmike a tough match ups for the rest of the WNBA to deal with. It was only fitting then, that the best player on the Sparks last season and who was the difference maker not only offensively but defensively, was the 2016 WNBA MVP and First Team All-WNBA honours.
Lavender, who is a starter on most WNBA teams also benefited from moving to the bench. She was able to still be efficient and help L.A.’s bench depth. She still played major minutes despite not starting and earned Sixth Woman of the Year. She was one of the key pieces for L.A. all season long.
Alana Beard, one of the longtime respected WNBA veterans also was very efficient for L.A. Her defense, her ability to hit shots when needed was key for the Sparks to make the title run that they did. She also could have been the WNBA Finals MVP because her defense was outstanding and she hit big shots when her team needed to do so. L.A. does not win the title without her contributions.
Toliver, L.A.’s top sharp shooter and clutch player who had been on the team since 2010, also impacted the team as she was once again right there when the Sparks needed her leadership and she delivered time after time. Sparks also have to thank Toliver for getting them to win the title.
Although Essence Carson and Chelsea Gray had different paths last season, both were just as important to the Sparks. Carson’s defence was needed for L.A.’s regular season success and Gray’s ability to be big on the Finals stage helped make it easier for L.A. to go out there and execute against the experienced and seasoned squad in the Minnesota Lynx.
Although Parker was still among the league leaders in terms of scoring, her team mates were able to assist her and when it was time to rise up to the occasion, she did which made her the WNBA Finals MVP and a WNBA champion.
After winning the championship, in the offseason Sparks GM Penny Toler went to work and re-signed Beard for one more season. She will retire after this season. They did suffer a big loss when unrestricted free agent Toliver chose to leave the Sparks to go home and play for the Washington Mystics. Toliver was their best shot maker and best three point shooter. It will not be easy to replace her. After she left L.A., Toler extended the contracts of Parker, Oguwmike and Lavender to ensure that the rest of the core group stays in L.A.
They also traded for Dallas Wings guard Sims in exchange for their first round draft pick. L.A. needed a guard to help fill the void after Toliver’s departure and the hope is that Sims can fill that role for them. They also get back from injury a talented shooting guard in Riquna Williams who unfortunately could not play in 2016. They signed Williams in the 2016 offseason. In the 2017 WNBA Draft, they drafted Sydney Wiese from Oregon State with the No. 11 pick. They also drafted Saicha Grant-Allen out of Dayton with the 35th pick.
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L.A.’s quest for a championship in 2017 is very much alive and could happen. But they face the very real possibility that the Lynx may take the title away from them. How Sims and Williams help the team in their title quest is very much a question mark. My prediction for the Sparks this season is that they will be one of the top teams in the WNBA again and will go to the WNBA Finals but ultimately lose to the Minnesota Lynx in a best of five game series.