The last time a WNBA champion repeated the next year was back in 2001 and 2002. That team was the Los Angeles Sparks. So, who is to say the streak of non-repeaters will not end in 2017 with the same franchise?
Last year’s WNBA finals were women’s basketball at its best, and its worst. Amazing talent graced the floor for both teams, but refereeing mistakes had a huge impact on outcomes. One thing that cannot be denied though is that the Sparks are worthy champions.
Loaded with transcendent players like Most Valuable Player winners Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, one of the best three point shooters in the game in Kristi Toliver, and two of the best defenders in the league in Alana Beard and Essence Carson, this team was rock solid. Just as important, they had a championship coach in Brian Agler, and they bought into his system.
Turn the clock forward, and while some things remain the same, some things are very different. Toliver has taken her talents to Washington, replaced on the Sparks roster by Odyssey Sims, the enigmatic but extremely talented guard acquired from Dallas. Riquna Williams signed as a free agent last year but injured all season, returns healthy and will also help fill the role of scoring guard to space the floor.
Chelsea Gray showed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs, and will undoubtedly step into a much bigger role this year as well, as she continues to mature as a point guard. With the exception of Gray and sixth woman Jantel Lavender, the rest of the bench is gone from last season.
From that perspective, not having Parker, Ogwumike, Carson and Lavender for most of training camp allowed Agler to look at possible replacements, including first round draft choice Sydney Wiese, and to give extra time to getting Sims time in his system.
The Sparks will raise their championship banner without Parker, Carson, and Lavender this weekend, but expect them all to be back for their ring ceremony next week.