Technically, it was a trade but Ogwumike, the former number one overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft was acquired by the LA Sparks from the Connecticut Sun for the team’s 2020 1st Round Pick on April 27, 2019.
That was the blockbuster move that reunited Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike on and off the basketball court, allowing them to live and play in the same city since Nneka moved from Palo Alto, CA to Los Angeles, CA in 2012.
Instead of a promising, yet unproven first round rookie, the Sparks will have an established, veteran post player in Ogwumike.
An added bonus, Chiney has already spent a year learning how to play with LA teammates under now second-year Head Coach Derek Fisher’s system. Her experience is something a 2020 rookie will never be able to reproduce and her connection with Nneka is described by as a “cheat code” by both sisters.
Ultimately, the blockbuster trade is the reason the Sparks will not be called upon by WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert until the 2nd Round of the WNBA’s Virtual Draft on April 17, 2020.
However, the Sparks will have three opportunities to find a sleeper in 2020. The Sparks have the 20th and 22nd draft picks, which fall in the 2nd Round. (20th Pick was acquired in a 2019 trade with the Chicago Sky for Jantel Lavender.) The team also has the 34th draft pick, which falls in the 3rd Round.
The Sparks currently have an established roster. All 12 players have at least three or more years of experience in WNBA, so it may seem unlikely a rookie will make the 2020 Sparks roster. However, Los Angeles Sparks Assistant General Manager Michael Fischer said there’s always a few surprises in training camp.
“We’re going to have a very competitive camp, and whoever we draft will have a chance to be a part of the team as well, so don’t get too focused on the 12 that we have,” Fischer said. “There’s a lot of good players in the draft, and I’m excited to get those 15 players in camp and we’ll go ahead with the best 12.”
If Fischer’s words ring true, the Sparks will allow rookies that are not draft and stash international players, an opportunity to play their way onto the Sparks stacked roster.
Breaking down the Sparks Roster
According to Coach Derek Fisher, Guards Chelsea Gray and Kristi Toliver are locks to start in the backcourt. Fisher also said, Forwards Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike are locked in to start in the frontcourt.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was signed to a multi-year contract to provide All-WNBA level defense and corner three-point shooting and the Sparks will also rely on Chiney Ogwumike for tough defense, rebounding and post scoring. Head Coach Derek Fisher loves Riquna Williams’ ability to provide instant offense.
The Sparks signed super vet and four-time WNBA Champion Seimone Augustus from the Minnesota Lynx. Sydney Wiese is a versatile player, one who can play three positions, provide an upbeat locker room presence and make timely three-point shots.
The Sparks have extended Maria Vadeeva’s contract, and ultimately choose to invest in growing the 21-year old’s game, by trading Kalani Brown to the Atlanta Dream for Brittany Sykes and Marie Gulich. Sykes will be a versatile, athletic wing player, with the potential to add another attacking dimension to the Sparks offense. Lastly, Derek Fisher has raved to Winsidr about Gulich’s defensive resume, as the two-time PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
How a rookie makes the Sparks
Last season, the Sparks could not find consistent playing time for Maria Vadeeva or Kalani Brown. That’s one of the major reasons why Kalani Brown was traded.
The Sparks wanted to balance out the team’s roster. They also wanted to upgrade the team’s depth on the wing with Brittany Sykes. They are also hoping to carve out more minutes for Maria Vadeeva, who routinely started for arguably the best collection of women’s basketball players in the world with UMMC Ekaterinburg.
If the Sparks decide to once again go with five post players, it will be practically impossible for Parker, N. Ogwumike, C. Ogwumike, Vadeeva and Gulich to all make an impact, unless one or more becomes a glorified scout/practice player.
However, that’s where the Sparks 2020 draft picks have a chance to step up and make the team. If a rookie guard or a versatile wing player shows the ability to play stifling defense, rebound and knock down three-pointers, the Sparks could decide to move on from a player at the end of roster like Gulich via trade or waivers.
The Sparks could invest in the long-term development of a rookie, which would also be beneficial for future salary cap implications, locking in a player on the rookie salary scale.That’s a tall ask from a 2nd or 3rd pick but that’s what they will need to do to beat out any veteran currently signed to the 2020 Los Angeles Sparks Roster.