LOS ANGELES (CBS)- The Los Angeles Sparks tip off their 2019 season this coming Sunday, May 26th, at 5 p.m. PT against the Las Vegas Aces. After finishing sixth in the league last season and being knocked out in the second round by the Washington Mystics, the Sparks made some big roster changes.
The biggest came in late April when the team traded their 2020 first round pick to the Connecticut Sun for forward Chiney Ogwumike. The 2014 Rookie of the Year joins a frontcourt that already includes her older sister Nneka (five time All-Star) and five-time All-Star Candace Parker making for a formidable group up front.
Add in free agent acquisition Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (5.5 PPG in 18.1 MPG in 2018) and the Sparks have the ability to play some massive lineups this season. Further adding to the talent wealth in the frontcourt is first round pick Kalani Brown out of Baylor. The 6’7″ center scored over 2,000 points and hauled in over 1,000 rebounds in her career with the Bears, helping lead Kim Mulkey’s team to the national championship this season.
Guard Chelsea Gray (2x All-Star) leads the way in the backcourt coming off a 2018 season in which she posted 14.9 points per game and shot 39.5% from beyond the arc. Entering her fifth season, Gray should continue her upward trajectory after she returns from playing in Turkey Joining Gray in the backcourt will be guard Alexis Jones who was acquired from the Lynx in a trade in exchange for Odyssey Sims. The former 2017 first-round pick didn’t get much playing time in Minnesota, but she’ll have a chance here to contribute with the guard position a little thinner than the frontcourt.
Alana Beard, Riquna Williams and Karlie Samuelson all return. How much of a factor Williams will be is yet to be determined as she is awaiting trial on burglary and aggravated assault charges stemming from an April incident involving her ex-girlfriend.
The rotation and figuring out the lineup combinations will fall to new head coach Derek Fisher, who was named to the job in December after Brian Agler re-signed earlier in the month before taking the Dallas job. Fisher, who went 40-96 in a season and a half as head coach of the New York Knicks, has a lot to prove in his second head coaching stint. As outlined above, there is plenty of talent in the front court and finding the right combinations of those players will be the biggest task this season.
Further complicating matters, Parker suffered a hamstring injury in the team’s first preseason game and will likely miss the team’s first five games of the season. There will be a lot on Fisher’s plate with regard to integrating new pieces already, having Parker out for the first few games will only make things more difficult.
That said, the Sparks have one of, if not the most talented rosters in the league featuring three former MVPs. They were picked as the team with the third-best title chances among league GMs according to a survey ESPNW conducted this week. The only teams picked ahead of them were the Las Vegas Aces and Phoenix Mercury. The Sparks will get to test that theory in the first game of the season when they face the Las Vegas Aces and their new star Liz Cambage on Sunday. That game can be seen on Twitter beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific Time.