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Seimone Augustus goes from longtime Sparks rival to teammate

A player who has dealt the Sparks so much postseason heartbreak will now call Los Angeles home.

WNBA: Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Candace Parker and Seimone Augustus have been rivals for decades.

They faced off against one another in college for SEC dominance, Parker at Tennessee and Augustus at LSU. Collectively, they won four consecutive Wooden Awards from 2005 to 2008. During the two seasons they overlapped in 2005 and 2006, Augustus’ Tigers won the regular-season titles, but Parker’s Volunteers won the SEC tournament both years by beating LSU in the championship game. Parker also has back-to-back NCAA crowns to her name, while Augustus had to settle for three straight Final Four appearances.

Once they got to the WNBA, Augustus and Parker became rivals once more at the professional level. Augustus’ Minnesota Lynx and Parker’s Sparks met up in the playoffs four straight seasons from 2015-2018, twice in the finals, with the teams splitting the meetings. Augustus maintains the upper hand, however, boasting three additional titles in her time with Lynx.

It’s no surprise that when Parker was asked on an episode of the Knuckleheads podcast to name a player who consistently gave her grief, Augustus was the first name that came to mind:

“I mean, Seimone Augustus. I played against her in college at LSU. And then when she came to Minnesota, they weren’t good her first I dont know how many years, but she would get 30 every night. And we would be doubling, like we’d know where the basket was coming from, nobody else can score on their team, we gotta stop her. And she would still get a bucket.”

For 14 years in the NCAA and WNBA, Parker and Augustus have have been equal but opposing forces. That’s why it was absolutely shocking when the Sparks announced that they had signed Augustus in free agency after she spent 14 years in Minnesota. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that she would finish her career with the Lynx — instead, she will play the next WNBA season for their biggest rival.

On a personal level, that means joining forces with Parker, who was immediately thrilled to no longer have to defend Augustus, except for during practice. But on a team level, that means linking up with players who have a championship mindset like herself, and who want to bring another title to Los Angeles.

“The comfort with knowing Candace as a competitor, like the only message I really received from her was ‘Congrats, glad you’re here, let’s get it,’” Augustus said in a conference call last week. “To be honest, that’s all I really needed to hear from a player. That she wants me here, and that we’re going to work our butts off to achieve our goal, which is to possibly get a championship for this city.”

The ability to be part of a team that has as good of a chance as any to win it all, to help Augustus tie Rebekkah Brunson as the most decorated player in WNBA history with five titles, is what brought her to Los Angeles. The decision wasn’t about spurning the Lynx for their rival, though it did take a bit of time for Augustus to wrap her head around leaving the only professional team she’s known.

“It took a couple weeks to get over the idea of playing with players like you said, that we’ve had intense rivalries, intense games with,” Augustus said. “Once I got into my mind that I’m going to have the chance to play with Nneka Ogwumike, Candace, Chelsea [Gray], Kristi [Toliver], all players that have won at the highest level that we’ve competed against. I know what it feels like to be around and play with great players, so just the feeling of being able to experience that once again is what’s keeping me focused on not the rivalries and the past tensions, but the possibilities of the future.”

Even though she began her career as the no. 1 pick and go-to scorer, Augustus has plenty of experience sharing the court with other talented players, both in Minnesota and with USA Basketball. She’s learned how to fill a role instead of being the star, and that’s what the Sparks are expecting from her in her 15th season.

L.A. needed a veteran presence and a big guard who could slide over to the wing, particularly once Alana Beard retired, and they pounced when the eight-time All-Star became available.

“Having Seimone on the team, I can’t tell you how excited I am,” assistant GM Michael Fischer said. “Seimone is so amazing both on the court and off the court. She can do so much when she’s out there playing for us, she’s going to be the best teammate, she’ll be great on the bench, and in the locker room.”

Stylistically, the pairing makes sense. Augustus noted that the Sparks’ switching defense is ideal with her length and that playing next to two agile posts in Parker and Ogwumike will give her open space to work with both in the halfcourt and transition.

Augustus has a home gym in Louisiana and has been following a workout plan with an LSU strength and conditioning coach. The Sparks front office didn’t guarantee her any minutes before she signed, and she said her offseason focus is “continuing to build on strengthening and conditioning to get my quads and my knees able to hold myself, and not have random swell ups and things that I’ve experienced in the past.”

They may not have promised her a role, but the Sparks showed an interest in Augustus before any other team did, one born from years of going up against her and developing respect for her as a competitor, even if she was responsible for dealing L.A. some heartbreaking defeats.

That relationship will have to quickly evolve into something new whenever the 2020 WNBA season takes place, but Augustus feels at peace with her choice and excited for what lies ahead.

“Once we started talking, it felt comfortable, it felt genuine, it felt true,” August said. “Just speaking with [Derek Fisher], and speaking with Michael as far as the role and where the team’s going, and just knowing the players that I was going to have around me, it really brought an ease to me; a comfort. I felt right about if I had to make that decision to come, this possibly would be the place that I would be.”