Expect Toliver and Sykes to ‘Spark’ the offense for L.A.

Minnesota Lynx v Los Angeles Sparks - 2016 WNBA Finals - Game Three After winning a title with the Washington Mystics, veteran guard Kristi Toliver returns to the Los Angeles Sparks seeking her third. | Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Sparks have lured Kristi Toliver back to the City of Angels. In an effort to replace Alana Beard on defense and recharge the offense, the Sparks also acquired Brittney Sykes and Marie Gülich from the Atlanta Dream and re-signed Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.

No general manager? No problem.

During the first day of the free agency signing period, the Los Angeles Sparks addressed some of their most glaring needs — wing defense and backcourt depth — by trading for Brittney Sykes from the Atlanta Dream and signing Kristi Toliver. In trading for Sykes, the Sparks sacrificed center Kalani Brown but maintained frontcourt depth by bringing in Marie Gülich from the Dream as well.

With the retirement of Alana Beard, the Sparks lost one of the most intelligent defenders in WNBA history, making it impossible for L.A. to find someone with comparable smarts. However, the Sparks acquired a player whose athleticism might exceed that of peak-Beard: Brittney Sykes. She should not be expected to anchor the Sparks’ defense as Beard did but Sykes can be an aggressive wing-stopper. Her combination of size, speed and strength can frustrate opponents of any size.

On offense, Sykes has shown bursts of great potential, epitomized by the WNBA-record 22-point quarter she registered against the Phoenix Mercury this past July. Yet, her shot-making and decision-making remained inconsistent. On a team where she will not be expected to serve as a primary offensive option, her strengths should far outweigh her shortcomings. In addition to providing occasional scoring bursts, Sykes will be a regular threat in transition, streaking out to serve as a perfect target for Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker.

And, Kristi Toliver?

After winning a second title with the Washington Mystics in 2019, Toliver is heading back to where she won her first (in 2016).

Toliver will ease the burden on Chelsea Gray. Lost amid the puzzling end to the Sparks’ 2019 playoff run was Chelsea Gray’s poor performance throughout the semifinals series against the Connecticut Sun. The Sparks entered the 2019 season with a thin backcourt that grew thinner because of injuries. Gray, however, remained a constant, with head coach Derek Fisher riding his point guard until she gave out. Literally. And as Gray underperformed against the Sun, the Sparks struggled to generate offense without her on the floor.

By signing Toliver as an unrestricted free agent, the Sparks recharge their backcourt with a familiar face. In a statement, Fisher emphasized:

Heading into 2020 Free Agency, we wanted to add players that possess multiple skill sets and Kristi is at the top of that list. Kristi understands the habits and dedication required on a daily basis to build a championship culture.

Toliver and Gray can rekindle a potent tandem, with each able to play on or off the ball. Both can bomb from deep, opening space inside for Parker, the Ogwumike sisters and Maria Vadeeva to work in the paint.

Headband T returns

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt will be wearing purple and gold for the second-straight season. TRP was a stalwart for the Sparks during their injury-filled 2019 season. As a likely sixth woman in 2020, she gives Fisher a sturdy option on the defensive end and, if she willingly fires from deep, a potentially valuable floor spacer on offense.