Heading into their toughest stretch of the season — including two games each against Las Vegas and Seattle, the top two teams in the standings — the Los Angeles Sparks are doing a bit of roster shuffling.
All season-long contracts in the WNBA became guaranteed on Monday, June 28 at 2 p.m. PT. As a result, several teams cut players on unprotected deals to gain more salary cap flexibility for the remainder of the season. The Sparks parted ways with Bria Holmes, one of their final additions to the roster.
Holmes averaged 18.8 minutes per game for the Sparks while starting four contests. She could never really find her offensive touch, as she missed her first 11 shots of the season and connected on less than a third of her 2-pointers. Derek Fisher liked her versatility at the forward positions, especially with L.A. missing both Ogwumike sisters for the majority of the season. However, Holmes had been phased out of the rotation with the addition of center Kristine Anigwe on a hardship deal; she was a DNP-CD in the team’s last two games.
The Sparks also terminated Anigwe’s hardship contract.
“Difficult decisions, you know, have to be made, but it’s a human business, and you know it’s not easy to, you know, to make those decisions,” Derek Fisher said after practice Tuesday. “You know that you’re impacting a young woman’s livelihood and her career opportunities, etc. So we’re appreciative of what Bria and Kristine, you know, players that have been here prior to today, we’re very appreciative of what they were able to do for us.”
The good news for the Sparks is there appear to be reinforcements on the way in the frontcourt. Rachel Galligan reported that Los Angeles is signing Lauren Cox for the remainder of the season. Cox was the third pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, but was waived by Indiana earlier this week.
Sources: Sparks are finalizing a deal with 2020 No. 3 pick Lauren Cox for the remainder of the season. Sparks also plan to bring back Karlie Samuelson tomorrow and terminated her today to make cap room for both. Pending physical, Cox could be available tomorrow.— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) June 29, 2021
Due to injuries and contracting Covid before the start of last season, Cox has only played 278 minutes in the WNBA. It’s been hard for her to find her footing on a Fever team that is prioritizing veterans at the moment, but she had a decorated college career. She won a national championship in 2019 alongside former Spark Kalani Brown and was a first-team All-American in her senior season.
The theoretical allure of Cox is her ability to play alongside another big because of her ability to facilitate out of the high post and knock down midrange jumpers while also possessing a strong post-up game. That would be be useful on a Sparks team with talented frontcourt players who can toggle between the 4 and 5.
Cox had the best net rating of any player on Indiana last year — the Fever outscored opponents by 4.55 points per 100 possessions with her on the court, and the only other player with a positive plus-minus played six games. Those on-off splits have cratered in 2021, one of the reasons Indiana chose to part ways with the 23-year-old. The Fever’s loss is the Sparks’ game.
On Tuesday, L.A. also terminated Karlie Samuelson’s hardship contract. This appears to have been a financial calculus, as Fisher spoke earlier in the day about what Samuelson has brought and will continue to bring to the team. Sources told SB Nation’s Brady Klopfer that Samuelson is scheduled to be re-signed before Wednesday’s game against the Aces, and that she will have to be periodically waived and brought back in order for L.A. to stay under the salary cap.
Samuelson has been at her best in her third stint with the Sparks. She has the best offensive and defensive rating on the team in her six games, and she’s shooting the lights out with a true shooting percentage of 72.7.
“With Karlie, I think that the floor spacing offensively is good, but also basketball IQ and her feel for the game,” Fisher said. “She’s gotten better, to be transparent with you. She’s gotten better than she was in 2019, when she came in and helped us out for a week or so. So she’s more capable than what it appears in terms of just, you know, being a spot up shooter. She’s scrappy, she’s tough, not afraid to mix it up and put her body at risk to do the right things on the defensive end. So, you know, those are all things that regardless of who they are, those are qualities that we’re looking for in our players overall in terms of the way we want to play the game.”
The Sparks are currently 6-8, and that’s mostly because they have the second-worst offense in the league. Any help they can get from Samuelson, or Cox, or the return of the Ogwumikes, would go a long way in L.A.’s playoff push.