A tough decision for the two-time WNBA champion brought her back to some familiar faces
Following her three-year stint with the Washington Mystics, helping them their first championship in 2019, veteran guard Kristi Toliver is taking her talents back to Los Angeles on a three-year deal.
As an unrestricted free agent, the veteran guard not only spoke to Los Angeles, but also the Phoenix Mercury, Minnesota Lynx, Connecticut Sun, and Las Vegas Aces, Toliver told reporters on Wednesday. In the end, Toliver felt comfortable with her decision to sign with the Los Angeles Sparks.
More from Los Angeles Sparks
- Bet $5 on Sparks vs. Sky, Win $150 Instantly with Limited-Time DraftKings Promo
- Los Angeles Sparks name Curt Miller next head coach
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, November 2: Shakeup in the ACC with Bollin commit, UNC retool
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 14: Mystics are going dancing
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 10: Dream are (mathematically) stayin’ alive
“It was an extremely difficult decision to make,” Toliver said. “I love the city of D.C., I love Ted Leonsis the owner, I love my teammates deeply.”
Her free-agency decision mainly boiled down to the business side of things.
Toliver said her three years with the Mystics were the best times in her life, from the relationships she built and the opportunities that were presented to her. In 2018, the Washington Wizards brought her on staff as a full-time assistant coach. Throughout her time working with the Wizards for the past few years, Toliver has forged even more relationships with the players on that team as well. She will also stay on staff with the Wizards moving forward.
Financially was another story. With Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman also due paydays, and younger players reaching the end of their rookie contracts soon, the Mystics were uncomfortable going multiple years with Toliver until the very end of negotiations, and even then, wouldn’t match three years the Sparks offered, a league source told High Post Hoops.
“I just wasn’t offered the money I deserved,” Toliver said. “They had to make a decision and I had to make a decision based off that.”
Toliver also made it clear that it had nothing to do with coaching in the NBA. The position that Toliver has in being an active player while coaching the NBA is a unique one, but she expressed that they are not aligned and are two separate jobs. Last year, Toliver made just $10,000 for a full season as an assistant.
With the new CBA, Toliver was able to get paid separately from both the Mystics and Wizards.
Toliver is looking forward to reuniting with former teammates Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Chelsea Gray, whom she won the 2016 title with, in this second stint with the Sparks. Even so, within the familiarity will come new challenges.
“I’m excited to see how we mold back together,” Toliver said.
There were times during her first stint in Los Angeles, where communication was a concern that held them back. Throughout her three years in Washington dealing with a younger team, Toliver learned to be even more vocal as a teammate and leader.
Then there are newer players that she has to get to know, along with a new coach in Derek Fisher. Toliver only knew of him prior to this, but said that they had good conversations about both basketball and life. She even saw a lot of similarities between them both.
“He’s a smooth talker,” said Toliver about Fisher, who heads into his second season as the Sparks’ head coach. “He just seems like a really genuine and authentic dude, someone that I can see having a great future with.”
It will be a different experience for Toliver in Los Angeles this time. She’s grown even more while in Washington. One thing is for sure: she is excited for the challenge of returning to Los Angeles years later to see if the Sparks can get another title run.
“I’m coming back three years later, more mature with three years more experience,” Toliver said.
Toliver hopes that her future stays bright and is ready for her next chapter with the Los Angeles Sparks as she continues to get better as a player and learn many more lessons that are in store for her.
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.