It’s a new day in Los Angeles with Curt Miller as the Sparks’ new head coach and Karen Bryant as general manager. The vision and ultimate goal have been established since their opening press conference.
“Clearly we wanna win. This is a championship franchise,” Bryant said. “There is a legacy here. Curt and I and everybody associated with this team recognizes the expectations and aspirations for the L.A. Sparks, that is crystal clear.”
In every interview, press conference and media availability, Miller has made it clear the goal is to build something that’s sustainable; it’s not just about going for a title this year.
“We’re not putting a timeline on how fast and how good we can be, but we won’t cut corners to do it,” Curt said during his first presser as the Sparks head coach. “We’re gonna do it with great people and we’re gonna do it the right way.”
But what will the team actually look like this season?
Well, with the roster still not solidified, the back half of the lineup is still very much in question. But the top of the roster isn’t. We know Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka Ogwumike, Lexie Brown, Dearica Hamby, Azurá Stevens and Jasmine Thomas will all be integral to the Sparks’ success.
When it comes to the starting lineup, my guess is both Ogwumike sisters will start, as will Brown, Jordin Canada and Hamby, if she is ready for that kind of workload coming off her pregnancy. This lineup is a good combination of the best parts of last year’s team and some new additions.
The swing players
Certain players on the depth chart will be the deciding factor on how far this team will go. You already know the play you’ll get from Chiney and Nneka, but if a few rotation players take a leap, that will raise the ceiling of this team from fighting for a playoff spot to potentially becoming a Top 4 team. Here are the players I think will have the biggest impact on this season’s success.
If a few players have a stand-out season, the Sparks should see themselves in the playoffs in 2023. Lexie Brown is one player I’m looking at to make a jump. She had a career year averaging 7.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in her 25 minutes of play, and for the second time in her WNBA career, she is on the same team for consecutive seasons. That stability, along with her 3-point shooting and a coach she has experience with from her days in Connecticut, could create a perfect situation for Brown to blossom in 2023.
It’s hard not to like Stevens. Her exuberant personality is infectious and her smile is so bright and contagious only Magic Johnson can rival it. On the court, Stevens has always been a good rotation player. She’s averaged nine points and 4.4 rebounds in her five seasons in the W, finding the most success with her previous team, the Chicago Sky, with whom she averaged double-digit points and won a championship in 2021.
I’m optimistic that Miller can unlock the best version of Stevens, making her a versatile player who can play inside and stretch the floor a bit, increasing her 3-point attempts and mid-range shots. If she can have a career year, it could make the Sparks’ frontcourt one of the best in the league.
Dearica Hamby has gone through a lot, from allegations that she was bullied during her pregnancy when she was a member of the Las Vegas Aces to being traded to Los Angeles to now having to get her body into basketball shape just a few months after giving birth.
When she will play and how close to the Hamby we’ve all seen in Vegas she’ll be remains to be seen, but when Crystal Bradford was asked at practice who surprised her the most during training camp her answer was immediate.
“Dearica. Eight weeks later … That baby is eight weeks, that baby’s eyes are just open and she is out here working. She’s working smart. She’s working hard, but she’s working smart. She’s not overdoing anything; she’s trusting her body. You can tell she’s a smart player.”
Despite Miller’s insistence that this is a long-term plan, people want to know how good the Sparks will be this year.
I think it’s fair to expect this historic franchise to at least make the playoffs. They kept the best parts from last year’s team, added better players to the roster and brought in a phenomenal coach. Even with the tempered expectations, this is the best team on paper the Sparks have had since 2019. We’ll start to understand how good they will be in 2023 next Friday when they start the season at home against the Phoenix Mercury.