Unrestricted Free Agents: Ticha Penicheiro, Tina Thompson
Restricted Free Agents: Candace Parker
Reserved: Natasha Lacy, Jenna O’Hea, LaToya Pringle
As with Chicago, LA’s biggest piece shouldn’t be too complicated. Parker gets the max for as many years as she’s willing to sign for (the maximum is four years when re-signing or extending your own players, three years otherwise). She’s not going anywhere.
The golden oldies are interesting cases. Ticha Penicheiro has only been signing one-year deals for ages now, so she’s a free agent yet again. The legs might not go quite as fast as they used to, and her scoring remains virtually non-existent, but there are still plenty of teams who’d love to have a point guard like her who knows how to run a team. Given that they still haven’t found her successor (Kristi Toliver, Noelle Quinn and Natasha Lacy all seem better off as wings), that list of teams who’d love to have her still includes LA. Seeing as Penicheiro still hasn’t played a single WNBA season outside of California, they’re probably favourites to re-sign her, but they’ll have competition. Tina Thompson has looked disgruntled and miserable for much of the last couple of years in LA, and had an ugly 2011 season. With plenty of other options at power forward, and the #1 pick in the draft (expected to be yet another 4 in Nneka Ogwumike, unless someone unexpected declares), the Sparks don’t really need her any more. There’s always the chance that she’ll retire, and her legacy might earn her another year or two in LA from mercurial GM Penny Toler, but part of me wouldn’t be surprised if Thompson’s playing somewhere else in 2012.
The reserved players are probably fairly straightforward. Jenna O’Hea will likely be missing for at least the first half of the season to prepare for the Olympics with Australia, and may well miss the whole year. She’ll be back in 2013. Natasha Lacy and LaToya Pringle will probably both have the chance to make the team in training camp, assuming their European seasons end in time for them to make it back for the preseason.
The Sparks already made one big move in the offseason, hiring Atlanta assistant Carol Ross as their new head coach. They’ll be hoping Ross improves them on her own, but there’s some room for them to go shopping in free agency as well (especially if Penicheiro and/or Thompson aren’t re-signed). Speedy wing Armintie Price could be an option due to the possibility that Atlanta wouldn’t match a decent offer and Ross’s familiarity with her from both the pros and college. Before Price, they might take a shot at Candice Wiggins, especially if they think she can become a true starting point guard. After growing up in California and then going to Stanford, it would be something of a homecoming for Wiggins, and maybe Ross could find enough pieces of a point guard between her and Toliver to add up to nearly a whole one. New York’s Leilani Mitchell could be a fallback option to fill that point guard hole as well (their chances of attracting Sue Bird seem rather slim).
With Jantel Lavender the only true center on the roster, they probably wouldn’t mind bringing in another true big either, but there’s only so much money to go around. If they strike out on the worthwhile perimeter options, someone like Ruth Riley could solidify their interior instead (or Alison Bales if Ross wants to go back to the Dream well), but that’s almost certainly a secondary concern.