Los Angeles Sparks finalize their 2024 Opening Day roster

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Sparks begin their 2024 regular season against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday.

LOS ANGELES — On Monday, the WNBA rosters were finalized. That, of course, also includes the Los Angeles Sparks. While the WNBA season begins on Tuesday, the Sparks don’t start until Wednesday when they face the Atlanta Dream in the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach.

This is the roster that the Sparks will have to begin their 2024 campaign.

The Sparks had to cut multiple players to get to these 12. Those include Monique Billings (free agent signing), McKenzie Forbes (former USC Trojan that was picked in the third round of the draft by the Sparks), Nia Clouden (who played in a limited capacity with the Sparks last season), Blake Dietrick (last played in the WNBA for Atlanta in 2021), and Taylor Mikesell (played with Atlanta last season). Julie Allemand, acquired from Chicago along with Li Yueru, is sitting out the season due to an ankle injury.

Half of the current roster return from last season while the other half are newcomers acquired from trade, free agency, or the draft. Let’s start with the returning players.

LEXIE BROWN (G, 5’9”, 7th year, #4)- Brown looked like one of the more improved players last season before her year was cut short due to what was eventually diagnosed as Crohn’s disease. She looks ready to go this season as she is one of the biggest perimeter threats from the team, if not the league.

RAE BURRELL (G/F, 6’2”, 3rd year, #12)- Burrell was let go by the team twice before eventually sticking with the Sparks for the rest of the 2023 season. After coming on late where she scored in double figures in three of the last five games, Burrell was able to re-sign with Los Angeles for this coming season. Her outside shooting will be needed for this team.

LAYSHIA CLARENDON (G, 5’9”, 11th year, #25)- Clarendon is tough as nails and simply put, a winner. After a season away from the W, she caught on with the Sparks and gave the team some tenacity and grit that became a signature for the team last year. Los Angeles was 14-10 when Clarendon was in the line-up last season and 3-13 when she didn’t play. The team wouldn’t be anywhere without Layshia Clarendon.

ZIA COOKE (G, 5’9”, 2nd year, #1)- Cooke was drafted last year with the #10 overall pick. She played her college ball in South Carolina under Dawn Staley so the pedigree is there. Her up-and-down rookie season was bookended with 14-point games. Now with a year under her belt, she seems poised to step it up from both ends of the floor.

DEARICA HAMBY (F, 6’3”, 10th year, #5)- What was remarkable about Hamby’s 2023 was she played all 40 games after giving birth two months before the season started. The two-time 6th Player of the Year looks to follow up on that as she is healthier physically and mentally (we remember her ordeal after she got traded from the Aces).

AZURA STEVENS (F/C, 6’6”, 7th year, #23)- Stevens came over as a free agent last season after spending three years in Chicago, where she won a championship in 2021. Her size and versatility was key for the team. Unfortunately, Stevens will be out due to an arm injury playing in China and she will be re-evaluated around mid-June.

And here are the new Sparks for 2024:

CAMERON BRINK (F/C, 6’4”, rookie, #22)- We know that Caitlin Clark was the grand prize of the 2024 WNBA Draft. But the Sparks still had a hell of a draft. With the second pick, Los Angeles got Cameron Brink, the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and 2021 National Champion from Stanford. She will be the stopper inside the paint and her offense is expanding. Brink is expected to be the franchise bearer for the Sparks.

Rickea Jackson talks to the media after she is selected with the number four overall pick to the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

RICKEA JACKSON (F, 6’2”, rookie, #2)- Jackson is a three-level scorer from Tennessee and was picked fourth overall in the 2024 WNBA Draft by Los Angeles. Big things are expected from Jackson as the Sparks will try to develop her into a star in this rebuilding season. Heck, Jackson herself is capable of becoming the face of the team.

AARI McDONALD (G, 5’6”, 4th year, #15)- McDonald went to the Sparks in the Jordin Canada trade. She is a dynamic scorer at 5’6”; she actually nearly led Arizona to the national title against Stanford (ya know, Cameron Brink and company). McDonald can be a nice change-of-pace guard that can throw off opponents.

KIA NURSE (G, 6’0”, 6th year, #10)- Nurse came from UConn and can provide some spacing for the Sparks. She was part of the package in a deal that involved the #4 pick with Seattle. Nurse had a torn ACL that caused her to miss the 2022 season but did play all 40 games for the Seattle Storm last year. A former all-star, a healthier Nurse can cause a lot of damage.

STEPHANIE TALBOT (F, 6’2”, 6th year, #7)- Technically, Talbot isn’t a newcomer; she was actually signed by the Sparks last season before a devastating ACL injury put her out of the 2023 season. Still, Talbot will provide some shooting and rebounding as she helps shore up the L.A. bench.

LI YUERU (C, 6’7”, 2nd year, #28)- The team was very excited to have Li. She’s a 6’7” center that can be a force inside on both ends. She last played in the WNBA with the Sky in 2022 and is part of the Chinese national team for the upcoming Summer Olympics.

The head coach is Curt Miller, who is in his second year with the Sparks but spent seven seasons with the Connecticut Sun. He took the Sun to the WNBA Finals twice.

Miller loves his teams to get down and dirty on the defensive end. The Sparks finished fourth overall in defensive rating last season but was tops in the league after the All-Star break. The team just missed the postseason at 17-23 but it was really remarkable they finished with that record due to the slate of injuries they had.

In the offseason, they did lose key players in Nneka Ogwumike (Seattle via free agency), Chiney Ogwumike (not playing this season), Karlie Samuelson (Washington via free agency), Katie Lou Samuelson (Indiana via free agency), Jasmine Thomas (retirement), and Jordin Canada (Atlanta via trade). Miller conceded that it’s like they’re starting all over again.

“I almost feel that this is in Year One now with the draft picks, couple of really outstanding trades in the offseason that brought new talent in the organization,” said Miller during Media Day. “But still, a little bit of mixture of people returning. I’m excited about it and looking forward to seeing if we can model what we did in Connecticut, bring it back here, and build this back to a championship level.”

The Sparks aren’t exactly prognosticated to make the postseason as they go through the growing pains of a young team (all but two players are under 30). But Lexie Brown said, “This group is way ahead compared to last season’s as far as picking up concepts and creating synergy on and off the court.” With the intensity of their coach and players, the Sparks will always be a difficult team to beat.

It may not be a championship-contending team in 2024 but it should be very fun to watch this team grow throughout the season. And it should be a start of something special for the new era of the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Sporting Tribune’s Fredo Cervantes contributed to this article.