There are many questions about how the LA Sparks will start the season without Candace Parker. But in spite of that, they have a proven new coach in Brian Agler and talented Nneka Ogwumike to lead the way.
Before the 2012 season, the Los Angeles Sparks hired coach Carol Ross to lead the team, impressed by her work in helping the Atlanta Dream reach the WNBA Finals the previous two consecutive seasons.
Sparks general manager Penny Toler said at the time that the hiring was, in part, because the team needed someone to bring together “strong personalities to play together as a team.”
But after two straight 24-10 seasons, last year the Sparks underachieved, amassing a 10-12 record before Toler fired her recent hire and took over the reins herself. Now, instead of a coach to manage personalities, Toler brought in someone to give the team a personality.
Newly hired Brian Agler will be the sixth coach in as many seasons, and the coach who helped the Storm win the WNBA championship in 2010 hopes to bring the same success to the Sparks after a tumultuous few years in the front office and the owner’s box.
But success will be hard for the Sparks to achieve, at least early in the season. Two-time MVP Candace Parker will miss some of the season, taking the weeks to rest after playing for UMKC Ekaterinburg in the offseason. Parker is a huge part of the Sparks’ offense, leading the team in both scoring and assists last season.
As if Parker’s absence wasn’t enough to hurt the team’s chances, starting point guard Kristi Tolliver will also miss time during the beginning of the season while playing in the EuroBasketball tournament for Slovakia, where she was naturalized as a citizen in 2014.
Despite missing Parker and Tolliver, all hope isn’t lost in LA. As always with the Sparks, there’s more than enough talent to go around; it will just be a matter of who rises to the occasion.
Los Angeles picked up guard Erin Phillips in free agency, who will most likely start in Tolliver’s place during her absence. And even after the return of Kristi Tolliver, the Sparks should rely heavily on Phillips for backup duties.
But the real opportunities lie in the frontcourt. The 2012 Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike will be heavily leaned on to produce while Parker rests. After averaging 15.8 points per game last season, Ogwumike will show whether or not she can handle the rest of the offensive load early in the season.
And she won’t have to do it all herself. Jantel Lavender, the team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder form last year remains, and the two should find ways to tread water at the very least until Candace Parker returns.
At the center position, two new faces offer even more frontcourt depth. Center Jennifer Hamson was drafted in 2014, but chose to return to Brigham Young University to finish out her years of collegiate eligibility as a volleyball player.
After spending a weekend in early May alongside some of the WNBA’s finest at Team USA training camp, she is finally ready to don a Sparks jersey.
Additionally, Los Angeles signed 6’5” center Mariana Tolo from French team Tango Borges Basket, whose size will help clog up the paint at the defensive end even if her scoring doesn’t translate over to WNBA Basketball.
Tolo played in the WNBL from 2008 to 2012, helping the Canberra Capitals win two league titles in that span. Her championship pedigree should also help the Sparks develop the winning personality that Coach Agler hopes to instill.
While there were question marks about how a slightly diminished roster would mesh with a brand new coach’s system, the Sparks won both of their preseason games against the Sun and the Sky. They open their season against the Seattle Storm tonight, in a game that will see Agler play against his old team.
An opening night win after an undefeated preseason will give a lot of confidence to the Sparks’ decimated roster, and it will be exciting to see how they perform until they get two of their top performers back in action.Powered by Sidelines