Sparks round out busy offseason with WNBA draft on Monday


Trade by trade, the Sparks worked their way back into the WNBA news cycle. The team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 took center stage with a live free agency news conference outside Crypto.com Arena.

Coach Derek Fisher and new star center Liz Cambage smiled that day at an offseason well spent, but the preparation for the Sparks’ hopeful comeback wasn’t over. The last piece of the team’s splashy offseason comes Monday with four picks during the WNBA draft.

The Sparks start with the ninth selection, which came through a trade that kicked off the team’s busy offseason. The move that sent forward Gabby Williams to the Seattle Storm in exchange for forward Katie Lou Samuelson and a first-round pick was only the first domino in a frenetic free-agency period that announced the Sparks as playoff contenders again.

Getting Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 wing who can bring vital outside shooting, opened space on the team’s salary cap-strapped roster. Fisher, in his second season as the general manager and fourth as its coach, made the most of every dollar.

He signed Seattle point guard Jordin Canada as a free agent. Added dynamic 23-year-old guard Chennedy Carter through a trade that cost the Sparks veteran Erica Wheeler, a second-round pick and a 2023 first-rounder. The biggest attraction was Cambage, a four-time All-Star who took a pay cut to ensure the Sparks could sign the maximum of 12 players. The additional depth was a top priority for Fisher because it will help during the expanded 36-game season.

The Sparks were fortunate to have each piece line up, Fisher said. Now the team can enter the draft “with much more of an open mind about the type of player that we need to draft.”

New Sparks player Liz Cambage holds her jersey during a press conference to announce her signing with the team outside of Crypto.com Arena on Feb. 23.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

That player is versatile on offense and defense, Fisher said. Potential draft targets must be able to play alongside frontcourt stars like Cambage and Nneka Ogwumike as well as contribute in smaller lineups. Guarding multiple positions is a requirement to fit on a team that held teams to the second-fewest points in the league.

Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard, Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith and Mississippi center Shakira Austin are expected to be the first picks off the board with Atlanta, Indiana and Washington leading off the draft.

Florida Gulf Coast’s Kierstan Bell is a top wing. The Ohio State transfer averaged a double-double as a sophomore with 24.3 points and 10.6 rebounds, then followed it up with 22.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals as a junior. Connecticut guards Christyn Williams, who was named the Ann Meyers Drysdale national shooting guard of the year, and Evina Westbrook also could be first-round options for the Sparks, who must jumpstart their league-worst offense.

Hearing their names called on draft night is only the beginning for WNBA draft picks, who face uphill battles to earn roster spots.

The Sparks have 14 players on their roster and just 15 training camp spots. Fisher anticipates that all four of the Sparks’ selections — including the 16th, 19th and 27th overall picks — will be invited to training camp as the team waits for veterans finishing overseas commitments.

Giving promising prospects an opportunity to prove themselves is paramount to Fisher. The Sparks already have had success with second-round selections Te’a Cooper and Arella Guirantes.

No matter whom the Sparks select Monday, Fisher anticipates a competitive training camp.

“We want to be in a place where people have the opportunity to earn what they believe they can achieve and access,” Fisher said. “We want the environment to feel as though you have to earn everything, and you have to work hard for it.”

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