The Los Angeles Sparks got some good news and bad news during the first week of WNBA free agency.
Te’a Cooper, who spent her first two seasons with the Sparks, signed her qualifying offer to return to the team for year three. The point guard has become a defensive stalwart despite her 5’8 frame, with the Sparks allowing two fewer points per 100 possessions with Cooper on the floor. The playmaking has been slower to come along, and Cooper has struggled to finish in the paint, but she averaged more points, rebounds, steals, and blocks per 36 minutes in her sophomore season compared to her rookie year.
Head coach/GM Derek Fisher is particularly fond of Cooper and credited her growth in the team’s press release:
“Te’a took on a bigger role for us last season and showed significant growth on both ends of the floor,” General Manager/Head Coach Derek Fisher said. “Her ability to disrupt the game defensively as well as attack the basket on the offensive end will be important for us moving forward. We’re confident she’ll continue to elevate her game and be an impact player in this league.”
Cooper is one of a select few WNBA players whose siblings also play in the NBA, as her younger brother Sharife is on a two-way contract for the Atlanta Hawks. Her 2021 Sparks teammate Nia Coffey is in the same boat, as her brother Amir is also on a two-way with the Clippers. However, Nia Coffey is now making her way to Sharife’s neck of the woods, as Spencer Nusbaum of The Next reports that she will be signing with the Atlanta Dream.
Multiple sources confirm to @TheNextHoops: free agent Nia Coffey is headed to Atlanta. Averaged 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds last season in LA.— Spencer Nusbaum (@spencernusbaum_) January 22, 2022
Coffey is an unrestricted free agent, and the Sparks don’t have nearly as much cap space to woo her as the Dream without making other personnel moves, Still, this is a gut punch for Los Angeles, as the team lost three premier unrestricted free agents last year (Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, and Riquna Williams) and appears to be losing its only UFA in 2022.
It’s disingenuous to compare Coffey to Parker and Gray, but maybe not Williams. Coffey was one of the better 3-and-D players in the league in 2021, shooting 41.7 percent from distance while defending all five positions. One of the consistent highlights of the year was watching Coffey rotate in help and obliterate an unsuspecting drive to the hoop.
The Sparks will have to find new sources of wing/forward depth this upcoming season, perhaps relying more on 2021 rookies Jasmine Walker and Arella Guirantes. For now, the squad gets a little bit worse. Coffey was one of the surprises of 2021, unexpectedly making the team after signing a training camp contract — much like Cooper was a pleasant surprise after being signed to a replacement contract the year before; perhaps the Sparks can find another diamond in the rough in 2022.