WNBA Offseason Primer: Los Angeles Sparks

January 15 marked the official start of WNBA free agency. The WNBA released an official list of core players, reserved players, unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents.

With the help of The Summitt’s WNBA salaries database compiled by our own Howard Megdal, we’ll take a look at each WNBA team going into free agency, aiming to answer the following questions:

  • Which players are free agents?
  • Which players are still under contract?
  • Who are some potential prospects worth targeting in the upcoming WNBA Draft?
  • Which players on the free agent markets would be good fits to add for 2018?

The Los Angeles Sparks have posted a 26-8 record in consecutive seasons, earning a double bye into the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs as the second overall seed both times. The Sparks swept the Phoenix Mercury in a best-of-five semifinal series to advance to the WNBA Finals, where they met the Minnesota Lynx once again.

The Sparks closed out the Finals in Minnesota in 2016, but the Lynx were able to prevail in 2017 to capture yet another championship. The Sparks missed an opportunity to close out the 2017 WNBA Finals at home in Game 4. Just as in 2016, the 2017 Finals came down to the final minute on Minnesota’s home floor.

Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike earned All-WNBA honors once again in 2017, and point guard Chelsea Gray elevated her game to another level to earn 2nd Team All-WNBA honors as well. Alana Beard was named 2017 Defensive Player of the Year. Ogwumike joined Beard on the All-Defense 1st Team.

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 01: Alana Beard

Now let’s break down the Sparks’ situation — current free agents, players still under contract and the status of their 2018 draft picks.

Unrestricted free agents (UFAs): G/F Alana Beard, F Tiffany Jackson-Jones, F Sandrine Gruda

Restricted free agents (RFAs): G Odyssey Sims

Reserved players: Ana Dabovic, F Jelena Dubljevic (appeared in 15 games for the Sparks in 2016), C Marianna Tolo (started 14 games for the Sparks in 2015)

Core player: N/A

Players under contract:

  • F/C Candace Parker (contract details unknown — signed a multi-year extension 2/9/17)
  • F/C Nneka Ogwumike (contract details unknown — signed an extension 2/16/17)
  • G Chelsea Gray through 2018
  • F/C Jantel Lavender (contract details unknown — signed an extension 2/14/17)
  • G/F Essence Carson through 2018
  • G Riquna Williams through 2018
  • G Sydney Wiese through 2020 (team option)
  • F/C Maimouna Diarra through 2018

2018 draft picks: No. 11, No. 23, No. 35

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 01: Candace Parker

The Sparks are in a good position to bring back their top eight players from last season. Sims, who will garner All-Star consideration if she plays as she did in the second half of last season, is restricted — the Sparks can match any offer thrown her way. Beard will be 36 in May. The veteran stopper logged as many minutes as Parker and Ogwumike last season. She’s known for keeping herself in great shape, and she sustained her high level of play throughout the season.

Lavender completes arguably the best frontcourt trio in the WNBA. The Sparks project to have less than $100,000 in cap room with Sims and Beard back. One use for their first round pick would be to target a forward to come in and learn behind that trio to possibly contribute more down the line.

Sydney Wiese has a sweet outside stroke to take on more minutes immediately, though there is some serious competition for minutes off the bench on the perimeter. Chelsea Gray is a boss, but she was among the league leaders in minutes played. Fatigue may have been a factor for her in the last few games of the Finals. The Sparks could stand to offload just a few of those minutes each night, which could create a more reliable spot in the rotation for Wiese.

Essence Carson is an established veteran and was a starter for the Sparks before missing some time with a groin injury — Sims ran with that opportunity to start and has been with the first group ever since. Riquna Williams adds a scoring punch off the bench and like Sims, has the quickness to really get into the air space of opposing ball handlers.

Players to possibly target in free agency:

  • The Sparks would have to move on from somebody to make room to pay an established veteran. I’ve seen Cappie Pondexter’s name mentioned online a few times. The Sparks have options to throw different looks out there with their backcourt already, and Williams is a much better defender.
  • I like the reserved market much more for the Sparks, should one of these players slip through the cracks. Sami Whitcomb and Rebecca Allen could be plug-and-play options to provide some shooting and defense on the wing. Damiris Dantas would be a great project to take on to see if they can really develop her face up game further. Kayla Thornton would fit in very well defensively, and having a fourth reliable forward would make it easier to manage minutes of Ogwumike and Parker throughout the regular season.

What are your expectations for the Sparks in 2018? Could they come away with a steal at the end of the first round of the draft, and are we going to see a Sparks-Lynx trilogy?