The Los Angeles Sparks need to let their new front office work — Hear from Tennessee’s Kellie Harper — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Jan. 4, 2023
The structure for the Los Angeles Sparks is officially in place. What happens next has as much to do with ownership allowing that long-term rebuild to happen as it does with the people themselves.
Karen Bryant, who will oversee both basketball and business operations, is a deeply respected figure with a rich history in the league. It’s an underrated part of the job to consider relationships as part of it, and Bryant has them everywhere — in the league, and in the larger women’s sports world.
That the Sparks also promoted Eli Horowitz to assistant general manager suggests a willingness to marry old-school talent evaluation with a fuller buy-in on analytics. And in Curt Miller, the head coach who will almost certainly have a say in any big moves on the basketball personnel side, they have a coach who can utilize these approaches to maximize the effect on the court.
“Yeah, that has been a real theme,” Bryant told me about analytics on Wednesday. “It was a theme during the process of conversation with not only head coaching candidates, but general manager candidates… I was really struck by our conversations with Curt and how much Connecticut uses bench technology and technology in general. So we have already made mammoth strides in the Sparks’ organization in terms of the infrastructure and analytics framework that we’re setting up and are already using, compared to where the organization was this time a year ago. So, innovation, technology, analytics will be center to everything we do here.”
There is that big question, though: will owner Eric Holoman allow this to happen?
This is not a franchise built to win now. Exactly five players are under contract for 2023: Katie Lou Samuelson, Chennedy Carter, Jasmine Walker, Rae Burrell and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. I remain bullish on Katie Lou, and Nelson-Ododa had an excellent rookie season, but Carter played her way out of the rotation, and even the best-case scenario for all five does not suggest a base of talent capable of playing for a WNBA title anytime soon. That doesn’t change even if the Sparks retain unrestricted free agent Nneka Ogwumike (and they are, as you can see up top, using her in their 2023 season ticket ads).
Nor is there a path to adding immediate impact talent in the draft, since this year’s pick went to Atlanta in the trade that brought Carter to Los Angeles, part of a win-now effort from then-GM Derek Fisher. Effectively, Carter is the 2023 pick. Is she better than a full rookie scale deal of production from the fourth selection in this year’s draft? (Will it keep the LA front office up at night, imagining a new start around Charisma Osborne?) I’ll let you be the judge.
So there’s nothing immediate, and there’s nothing in the short-term build. There is, instead, a process to follow to get better over time, rely on the expertise and let the team gradually turn into a destination. It will be, too: people will want to play in Los Angeles once it is clear the team can contend, and for some players, even before that. It shouldn’t take five years.
But it won’t take one, either. And an ownership group that promoted Fisher to GM, only to axe him after 12 games, is going to need to exhibit some patience. There’s not a team further away from contending as free agency dawns here in 2023, from my view, than the Los Angeles Sparks.
The Indiana Fever understood where they were in the success cycle when they brought in Lin Dunn to long-term build. The Sparks may think the rules are different in a larger media market. But they really aren’t.
The team is in place. Now it’s time to let them go to work.
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Five at The IX: Kellie Harper, Tennessee head coach
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