After a flurry of moves, the Sparks still need to cut two players by May 23.
The last week of the WNBA preseason has been full of intrigue as each team works to get under the salary cap and its roster down to 12 players.
The Los Angeles Sparks are no stranger to this situation. The Sparks had 19 different players in training camp at one point or another, and are down to 14 with two days left until the start of the regular season. Here is a quick recap of where the team stands today.
The Sparks were at 17 players heading into their first preseason game and dropped Gabby Green and Loryn Goodwin after that contest. They then claimed rookie Cierra Dillard off of waivers from the Minnesota Lynx and re-signed Riquna Williams (in the midst of an ongoing legal situation) last week, putting the team back at 17 before their second and final preseason game. Another round of cuts followed as the team let go of Dillard and Rachel Hollivay.
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It seemed like general manager Penny Toler invited Dillard to camp in order to build a relationship for future seasons. Toler was incredibly complimentary of the former Buffalo star, but acknowledged that it might not be her time.
“I wanted to see what she would look like with the players that we have here,” Toler said on media day. “I wanted to bring her in, it is still about new talent, it’s still about building this roster. As a GM, this 2019 team is set. It’s the GM’s job to look at 20, 21, 22. Believe it or not, those are the teams I’m trying to put together right now even though it’s 2019.”
Hollivay was always going to have a difficult time making a roster already heavy on post players. Entering this week, of the 15 players in Los Angeles training camp, five players could be classified as centers without Hollivay (though both Ogwumikes can reasonably be called power forwards). In order to resolve that continued imbalance, the Sparks traded Jantel Lavender to the Chicago Sky.
Lavender came off the bench as the third member of a frontcourt rotation with Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike for the last two seasons. But with Chiney Ogwumike on the team and both Kalani Brown and Maria Vadeeva expected to assume larger roles, there were not going to be as many minutes available for Lavender. Los Angeles was also able to shed some salary, as the former Sixth Woman of the Year was on a max contract for this season and next.
Now, the Sparks stand at 14 players and need to cut at least two more players before Friday. Within the current roster, Parker, the Ogwumike sisters, Vadeeva, Brown, Chelsea Gray, Alana Beard and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt are locks. Alexis Jones and the newly reacquired Williams are highly likely to survive as well.
That leaves two spots for four players on the bubble: Karlie Samuelson, Sydney Wiese, Marina Mabrey, and Ashley Walker. Going off of preseason performance and how the players have looked in camp, Mabrey and Walker would appear to have an edge. However, both Samuelson and Wiese have been with the team since 2017, giving L.A. a certain level of familiarity and comfort with both players.
Los Angeles has high expectations for this season, and even with the team’s concentration of star power, the depth pieces still matter. That’s especially so with Parker still recovering from a left hamstring injury and Vadeeva potentially missing time for EuroBasket. Whatever decisions the Sparks make over the next two days could be very impactful towards meeting those expectations.
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