Current roster certainties and virtual certainties:
PG: Sharnee Zoll
SG: Alana Beard/Kristi Toliver
SF: DeLisha Milton-Jones/Marissa Coleman
PF: Candace Parker/Nneka Ogwumike/Ebony Hoffman
C: Nicky Anosike/Jantel Lavender
Fighting for the final roster spot: Ashley Shields, Khadijah Rushdan, Tyra White, Darxia Morris, anyone another team cuts who can vaguely play the point
New coach, several new players, and hopefully for Sparks fans, the start of a new era in LA. The combined shambles under Jen Gillom and Joe Bryant last season has been consigned to history, and the reins have been handed over to former Atlanta assistant Carol Ross. As a nice little bonus for Ross, the Sparks beat the odds and ended up with the #1 pick in what most people saw as a one-player draft (at least they did once Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins chose to stay in school). That allowed LA to add Stanford’s Nneka Ogwumike, an extremely talented forward who should be able to help immediately. Eventually, they also accomplished the important task of re-signing centerpiece star Candace Parker to a new contract.
Added to the squad this season are Nicky Anosike and Marissa Coleman, arriving in separate trades with Washington, another former Mystic in Alana Beard (signed as a free agent), and point guard Sharnee Zoll. Anosike has had an ugly couple of seasons but hopefully will improve paired with her former college teammate Candace Parker, while Coleman needed a fresh start but will have to show more endeavour than she did in Washington to be worth much. Beard is a risk, but potentially one that could pay off in style. A former All-Star caliber guard, a series of injuries has seen her miss the last two WNBA seasons. She’s been playing in Israel during the offseason, and while her numbers haven’t exactly been stellar, it’s good to see her playing solid minutes on a consistent basis. If she can be anything like her former self she’ll be a huge addition to the Sparks backcourt. Zoll is also a big question mark, but for very different reasons. After originally being drafted (and waived) by the Sparks in 2008, she’s been looked at by a couple of other WNBA teams over the years and never quite managed to stick. In Europe, she’s consistently produced impressive numbers that suggest the talent is there to make the WNBA transition – it’s just never happened. The Sparks are desperately hoping that it will in 2012.
And that’s because this backcourt looks desperately thin. With Ticha Penicheiro leaving as a free agent to play in Chicago, Noelle Quinn and Natasha Lacy traded to Washington and Australian Jenna O’Hea skipping the 2012 WNBA season to play in the Olympics, there’s not much left. It leaves them with Zoll, Beard and gunner Kristi Toliver as options to run Ross’s team, and of the three only Zoll is really a point guard (although the others have occasionally masqueraded as one). While the frontcourt looks somewhat overloaded, and someone like Ebony Hoffman could struggle to find minutes, they’ll be fishing around in training camp to fill out the perimeter rotation. Coleman can play some shooting guard, but chances are that the 11th roster spot will go to a true guard of some description. Two rookies they took early in the second round – Khadijah Rushdan and Tyra White – will have a shot, but the most likely choice may well be Ashley Shields. Remembered largely for being a huge shock at #8 overall in the 2007 draft, Shields was a complete bust first time around in the WNBA. However, she’s had some consistently impressive years overseas and it’s not a surprise to see someone giving her another shot. Whether someone like Shields or White sticks at that final spot could depend on whether Ross believes she has enough at point guard between Zoll, Beard and Toliver. If yes, then she can keep the extra wing; if not, then that 11th spot will have to go to someone who can run the offense.
Down low, LA look set, and the only questions are who’ll start and where Ross will allocate the minutes. Tina Thompson (free agency to Seattle) and LaToya Pringle (traded to Washington) are gone, but with Ogwumike coming in they’re unlikely to be missed.