Sparks begin 2023 WNBA season against Mercury

The Los Angeles Sparks will try to snap their two-season playoff drought this year.

LOS ANGELES — Well, the season opener is finally here. The Los Angeles Sparks start their 2023 campaign against the Phoenix Mercury.

We know that professional basketball in Los Angeles is all about rich tradition and championships. The Sparks of the Women’s National Basketball Association have made the playoffs 20 times in 26 seasons. They’ve also won three WNBA titles in their history.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been pretty as of late for the Sparks. They’re in the midst of their longest playoff drought (two years) and coming off their second worst record, percentage-wise, in their franchise (13-23 in 2022, which is a .361 winning percentage). The last few seasons have also been a bit tumultuous. Candace Parker left in free agency in 2021. They went through a midseason coaching change last season (Derek Fisher to Fred Williams). Four-time all-star Liz Cambage also left in the middle of the 2022 season.

So the Sparks went through quite the overhaul this season. Karen Bryant, who held various executive positions with the Seattle Storm for 15 years, was hired as the General Manager. Curt Miller, who coached the Connecticut Sun for 7 years and was an assistant for the Sparks in 2015, took the head coaching gig for the Sparks.

And the roster had a huge turnover from last season. Only four players from 2022 are going to be on the opening roster (Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Jordin Canada, and Lexie Brown; a fifth, Katie Lou Samuelson, won’t play this season due to her pregnancy). We know Nneka Ogwumike can still be an MVP-caliber player; she is such a Sparks legend. Chiney Ogwumike mentioned this was the best training camp she had ever been in and promised to be more present in this long 40-game season. Two-time WNBA champion Jordin Canada hopes to continue providing stability in the point guard slot like she did when filling in for Sue Bird in Seattle in the past. And Lexie Brown hopes to follow up on her career-best shooting year from three (.398).

The rest of the team is filled with solid veterans and a potentially exciting rookie. Azurá Stevens came from Chicago to provide height and defensive versatility. Dearica Hamby was traded from Las Vegas and was twice named Sixth Woman of the Year. Jasmine Thomas played for Miller in Connecticut and can be counted on as one of the leaders.

Layshia Clarendon has been around and has seen it all; they will also provide veteran support for the Sparks. First round pick Zia Cooke from South Carolina will learn from all these women but we also know she can handle the bright lights. Rounding out the roster are Joyner Holmes (a fourth-year forward that played for Miller in Connecticut last season), Nia Clouden (Connecticut’s first round pick last season), and Karlie Samuelson (signed to a hardship contract).

(For this game, Azurá Stevens (back) and Jasmine Thomas (ACL) are listed as out.)

A lot of new faces but certainly, a lot of capable players. Their first game on Friday night? The Phoenix Mercury, who were 15-21 last season and lost in the first round against the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

When you think Phoenix Mercury, you think Diana Taurasi, only the greatest scorer ever in WNBA history. A fixture on the team since 2004, we all know what she can do.

Of course, the huge story here is Brittney Griner. We’re all so happy to see her home after what she went through last year. We hope she has a great season but we’re all joyful that she can get to play the game that she loves and that she’s back where she belongs.

They also have fierce point guard Shey Peddy, the fiery Sophie Cunningham, and center Megan Gustafson returning from last season but, unfortunately, all three won’t be playing due to various injuries. All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith is also out due to maternity leave.

Former #2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson came over from Minnesota. Evina Westbrook from UConn signed with the team nearly two weeks ago. And 2021 Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere was acquired in a complicated trade in February.

At least, for the first game, the Mercury look like a very new team with all the holdovers from last season sitting down. The only player that’s playing from last season’s team is Diana Taurasi. Brittney Griner didn’t play with the team last year and it might take a little time for her to get back into the groove.

Either way, the WNBA is back. It’s a new beginning for the Los Angeles Sparks and, hopefully, they can get off to a good start to set the tone for this season.