Sparks' new deeper roster boosts optimism for WNBA title run

Sparks’ new deeper roster boosts optimism for WNBA title run

Heading into the WNBA free-agency period, Derek Fisher knew which pieces of the puzzle were needed to put the Sparks back on course for a championship quest.

The coach and general manager had several issues to address after missing the playoffs in 2021: improve three-point shooting, reinforce defensive leverage and establish a veteran presence.

Players voiced their desires to be a championship-caliber team following their 12-20 record last season. Fisher had a two-year plan to revitalize the team following Candace Parker’s departure, but injuries to sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver were roadblocks in the first leg of that journey.

So, with the front office’s sights set on myriad free agents and players available in trades, the newly acquired reinforcements rapidly formed one of the deepest rosters in the WNBA.

The offseason additions of Liz Cambage, Jordin Canada, Katie Lou Samuelson and Chennedy Carter have significantly bolstered an organization with three WNBA titles and high expectations, to realize another championship is in the realm of possibility.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play for the Sparks,” Canada said. “I never knew when it would happen. I knew that I wanted it to happen at some point in my career, I just didn’t know when.”

Canada wasn’t expecting a phone call from her hometown team. After experiencing the ebbs and flows of the free-agent market, the 5-foot-6 guard was interested in the Phoenix Mercury.

There wasn’t any inkling that the Sparks would initiate conversations to add the two-time WNBA champion (2018, 2020) to the talent-packed roster.

“Fisher reached out to my agent and he wanted to talk to me. We talked for about a good 45 minutes about me coming home,” Canada said. “How I could help the team, how I could bring what I have in my strengths to help bring this team back to what it used to be in championship and organization” expectations.

Canada wants to be a willing three-point shooter under Fisher’s guidance. She posted a 21.4% three-point average in her final season with Seattle. She should be a significant improvement to the box score after the Sparks ranked ninth in the league in three-point shooting at 33.5% in 2021.

Fisher, who is entering his fourth season leading the Sparks, played a large factor in signing big-name free agents like Canada and four-time WNBA All-Star Cambage, while also cultivating an environment where younger players can thrive.

Liz Cambage shoots against Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner.

Center Liz Cambage shoots against Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals on Sept. 30.

(David Becker/Associated Press)

“He’s not putting them in the box or restricting them, he’s allowing them to be who they are,” Canada said. “I think that’s really great; especially for me, having to come in and just playing my game and play freely and not have to think about a lot of things. Just being aggressive on the defensive end.”

The Sparks will be Samuelson’s fourth team in four years. Though her environment is constantly changing, the 24-year-old Fullerton native has refined her overall game with each passing season.

“I hope it can be a stable place for me,” Samuelson said. “That’s one of the first things that [Fisher] communicated to me, is that hopefully this is a good, fresh start and a stable home for me that we can figure out.”

Katie Lou Samuelson shoots for the Seattle Storm.

Forward Katie Lou Samuelson shoots during a game between the Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream on June 11 in College Park, Ga.

(Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Samuelson leveraged career highs in minutes played (21.0), field goals per game (2.7) and three-point field goals per game (1.0) last season with the Seattle Storm. Her wingspan has also been a weapon on defense.

The youth movement on the team can also be attributed to the city’s culture of winning. The Rams were recently crowned Super Bowl champions, while the Lakers and Dodgers won titles in 2020, fueling title aspirations for the Sparks.

“It makes me want to work,” Carter said. “Make these coaches proud, get us some wins, get us a championship, get us a deep playoff run, whatever I can do to build the LA Sparks, that’s what I’m here to do and I’m committed to it.”

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