Los Angeles Sparks mark start of new era without Candace Parker

Los Angeles Sparks mark start of new era without Candace Parker

It’s a new era for the Los Angeles Sparks. The team is starting their first season in over decade without long-time star Candace Parker, who signed with her hometown team, the Chicago Sky, in one of the biggest free-agency moves in WNBA history.

Speaking Wednesday at the Sparks’ media day ahead of the WNBA’s 25th season, GM and head coach Derek Fisher noted her departure, but stressed that their off-season moves have kept them a strong competitor.

“We feel really good about the direction we are heading in,” he said.

Parker spent the past 13 seasons with the Sparks, averaging 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, and setting all-time franchise marks in assists and defensive rebounds. She also won WNBA Finals MVP in 2016 in helping the Sparks to their first title since 2002 — back when Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie still roamed the paint for the team.

“I am just looking forward to her being happy being at home,” said Nneka Ogwumike, Parker’s teammate of the last decade. “I’ll be taking what I have learned from her as a player and a person with me for the rest of my life.”

Fisher, an 18-year NBA veteran who played the majority of his career for the Los Angeles Lakers, helped re-sign the six-time all-star Ogwumike to the Sparks this off-season.

“[Ogwumike’s] basketball and professional integrity to how hard she has worked,” Fisher responded when asked who has stepped up as a leader for the team. “It’s not only her impact on the team she plays on, but the role she has taken on as the President of the Players Association, she truly has a desire and willingness each day to serve others. When you have those kinds of people who are the cornerstone of the franchise, it makes everyone else’s job easier.”

Brittney Sykes, Te’a Cooper, Seimone Augustus also re-signed with the team this off-season. They’ll be helped in their quest for a fourth franchise title by additions Erica Wheeler, Amanda Zahui B., Bria Holmes and Nia Coffey.

“I think Fisher has done a tremendous job of bringing in players who can play multiple roles,” said Wheeler, a five-year WNBA veteran who averaged 10.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game as a member of the Indiana Fever last season. “He leaves us in a position where we can be unguardable. Teams can try their best to contain us, but they can’t really guard us because we are so multi-faceted in different ways.”

Zahui B. is no stranger to the Sparks. In 2019, she scored a career-high 37 points and nailed seven three-pointers against the team while with the New York Liberty. Now she is ready to help lead the Sparks to a WNBA title.

“I want to be a presence and I want to be known so that we have multiple threats on the court,” she said.

While the team played out last season in the Florida bubble — the “wubble” — along with the rest of the WNBA, this season they’ll split their home games in L.A. between the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Staples Center because of an overlap of NHL and NBA games.

But Fisher wasn’t making any excuses on media day.

“There isn’t anything that we are going to allow in to take us off our path,” Fisher said about having two home courts. “We are preparing our team to play the best basketball at the right time.”

The Sparks will tip off their regular season on May 14 against the Dallas Wings.

Other notable quotes from Sparks media day:

• Fisher on future league expansion: “I think the league should and will expand ultimately, but we can’t wait for that to happen. We need to continue to strive to be great. I know here in L.A. that’s what we are trying to do, and when the league does expand we can be healthier as a league.”

• Four-time WNBA champion Seimone Augustus on more WNBA players getting sponsors: “Women do buy sneakers and women can sell sneakers and we are a big part of the market, so I am excited to see this.”

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