A vital piece returns.
The Los Angeles Sparks completed some more important offseason business today, re-signing two-time All-Star guard Chelsea Gray. High Post Hoops has learned it is a one-year, $115,000 contract. There didn’t appear to be much urgency for either the team or Gray (a restricted free agent) to agree on a contract earlier, but with training camp starting next week on May 5, it is important for the Sparks to have their roster in place now.
In the team’s announcement of the signing, General Manager Penny Toler said, “[Chelsea] is a winner and leader, on and off the court. I’m thrilled to re-sign her and solidify her as a cornerstone of our franchise and our future success.”
Gray was one of the top perimeter players in the WNBA in 2018. In her second All-Star season, she averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists per game. She fully embodied the role of a combo guard, with a top-15 assist percentage and scoring average among guards. Gray continued to shoot well from beyond the arc last year in Los Angeles, shooting 39.2 percent on 2.9 threes per game, though like the Sparks as a whole, her three-point attempt rate was a little low.
Over the past two years, Gray has been the team’s go-to scorer in the clutch. She memorably hit a game-winner in Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals, and followed that up with a buzzer-beater on opening day of the 2018 season against the Minnesota Lynx again. Her ability to use her strong frame to both get to the basket and create space on her jumper make her a tough cover in most situations.
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Due to the team’s slow pace, Gray’s offensive arsenal isn’t ever fully on display for Los Angeles, but the Sparks were 3.3 points per 100 possessions better with her on the floor last season, more than double their overall net rating of plus-1.5, per Positive Residual.
The more buzz-worthy moves of Los Angeles’ offseason have been with regards to the team’s frontcourt, as the team drafted national champion Kalani Brown out of Baylor and traded for Chiney Ogwumike. Getting Gray back is important to bolster the Sparks backcourt. The team has a stable of experienced defensive guards, including Alana Beard and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, as well as younger players with offensive upside like Sydney Wiese, Karlie Samuelson, Alexis Jones, and the recently-drafted Marina Mabrey. However, Gray is the only real point guard in that group, and she will be tasked with leading a star-studded roster in 2019.
With Gray officially back in purple and gold, Los Angeles can trot out a starting lineup of Gray, Beard, Candace Parker, and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. That five-woman group includes 18 All-Star appearances, 3 MVP Awards, and 2 Defensive Player of the Year trophies.
The Sparks didn’t achieve their team goal in 2018, falling in the second round of the playoffs after back-to-back appearances in the WNBA Finals. They have introduced new leadership in head coach Derek Fisher, added significantly more talent, and now retained their floor general in Gray to avoid a similar fate this season.
In the Los Angeles press release, Gray said, “I’m happy to be back with such a great organization. The fans have always shown me so much love. This group is special on and off the court. We’re on a mission to win another championship, and we have the group to get it done.”
Chelsea Gray has been the starting guard for the Los Angeles Sparks in their last 78 games. Now was not the time for that streak to come to an end.
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