After missing out on the playoffs, the Sparks’ offseason and time for reflection is underway. On the heels of their disappointing year, Curt Miller and Karen Bryant will now have to assess what went wrong and make the necessary moves to avoid similar pitfalls next season as they try to lead the team back into contention.
During the Sparks’ exit interviews, Bryant listed four paths they can go about achieving this which include: the draft, trades, free agency and internal development.
Finding improvements in each of these paths will obviously go a long way in expediting the Sparks’ trek back to the postseason and beyond, but it will take calculated moves to do so. Let’s examine the very maneuevers the team will have to ponder and make if they hope to right the ship.
Building through the draft
The silver lining to the Sparks missing the playoffs is that they will have a lottery pick in the upcoming draft.
It remains to be seen which players will actually be available to be selected once the Sparks’ turn comes, but with players like Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Cameron Brink and Hailey Van Lith all potentially being on the board, this upcoming class has the chance to be among one of the deepest ever.
Although luck will play a role, selecting the right player will be crucial for Miller and Bryant as the Sparks find themselves in dire need of a franchise altering young player. Conversely, the wrong pick could set the franchise back even further into the WNBA basement.
This will also be the first time the Sparks have drafted in the lottery since 2012, making this moment somewhat uncharted territory for Bryant. The team did strike gold with Zia Cooke in their most recent attempt, so hopefully an even higher pick could churn out even better results.
Should they run it back?
After years of roster turnover, the Sparks project to undergo yet another facelift this offseason. With little continuity on this past season’s roster, the Sparks will pressed to change this as they currently have only six players on the books heading into the new campaign.
Because of this, the team has to make a decision on many of their own players, several of who played key roles last season. Between Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon and Jordin Canada, the Sparks have three members in their starting lineup alone set to hit the open market.
While it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the Sparks aren’t aggressive in retaining Ogwumike, for example, this does highlight the immediacy in which the team’s identity could change overnight.
In terms of external free agents, those within the organization have been coy about who they may target. However, Miller did mention the specific needs the team will look to address that may foreshadow their approach.
“Obviously, the offensive growth is going to be important for us...we know that we can use some 3-point shooting, and obviously, we play with a lot of versatile post players, could we add a back-to-the-basket post player? All those positional needs are going to be under discussion.”
The improvements from the perimeter may be addressed in-house if the team decides to run it back with a healthy Lexie Brown, Karlie and Katie Lou Samuelson. That said, they may instead opt for a blockbuster move and attempt to acquire a star like Skylar Diggins-Smith, who seems primed to leave Phoenix.
If they do ultimately look to acquire another big to pair with Ogwumike, the best option may be found in the draft with a player like Cameron Brink from Stanford. Patience likely will be key in these scenario, but there’s clear upside in having Brink develop next to Ogwumike and Dearica Hamby.
We won’t get all the answers for a few months, but there already appears to be a few logical options on their table.
Basketball and development never stops
Unlike their male counterparts, many WNBA players continue to compete professionally in the offseason. Many go overseas and play a full season, some stay stateside and compete in leagues such as Athletes Unlimited and a few decide to do individual home workouts to self-improve.
For the Sparks, Karlie Samuelson will be playing for the London Lions, Cooke will be playing with Team USA as part of the 3x3 U23 team and Brown and Hamby may also be involved with offseason basketball.
Although overseas and alternative basketball work does not always translate to WNBA success, the extra reps could yield beneficial results.
Brown, for example, was out for most of the season so spring reps could be helpful in getting her back to game shape. This could similarly also be the case for Hamby, who after giving birth, could use the extra basketball to build a rhythm. For the team’s younger players like Samuelson and Cooke, they can use as many professional reps as possible given how early they are into their careers and with their roles potentially on the verge of expanding.
On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone who has read, commented and liked our coverage of the 2023 WNBA season. As Arielle Chambers says: “The WNBA is so important.”
We at Silver Screen & Roll prioritize providing the best coverage possible on the Sparks, and look forward to continuing to do so during the offseason and beyond.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.