The free agency this offseason brought on a new core of players for the Los Angeles Sparks. Forward Nneka Ogwumike as well as head coach and general manager Derek Fisher are embracing certain changes as well.
For the first time in her career, Ogwumike did not compete overseas during the offseason. She also is a member of the USA National women’s basketball team for the Tokyo Olympics. She has been working out “intensely” during the offseason.
“I’ve been working with a strength coach that I had since college and she keeps me on my toes and a team of people that really cater to my physical needs and also enhance my performance,” Ogwumike said.
Although the Sparks gave Ogwumike the core designation, which gives the franchise exclusive negotiating rights over her, the six-time WNBA All-Star met with other teams. Ogwumike wanted to “honor the process” of free agency in the wake of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
“It wasn’t as though the Sparks were feeling this core necessarily in conversation to me and it wasn’t that I was strategizing and talking to other teams,” she said. “We have a coach who gets it, he gets what free agency is about.”
Fisher is adjusting to his dual role, learning how to be more available to his players. He took on the role as general manager because he wanted to invest in the players and the success of the 25-year-old franchise.
“It really is a 24/7 commitment, 365 days of the year,” Fisher said. “I anticipated that, I just didn’t know what the experience would be like in terms of the amount of discussions and conversations and sharing ideas and pushing each other forward.”
The style of basketball that Fisher wants is that of physical and mental toughness, passion, athleticism, and humility.
“The amount of opportunities and situations that you have to be able to switch the intensity that you have to get into rotation, that you got to be able to trap the pick and roll,” he said. “We feel like we added players and continue to invest in players that check these boxes.”
The Sparks have been one of the top defensive teams in the WNBA, Fisher hopes their strong defense will help improve their offense. He wants players to be more aggressive in the paint and attack the basket through contact.
“We tried to build a team that we feel like will physically be able to sustain the pace we want to play at, the things we want to do offensively and attacking teams,” Fisher said.
Among familiar faces on the 2021 Sparks roster is guard Seimone Augustus, who averages 15.4 points per game and shot at 48 percent during her career.
“I look forward to not just her bringing exactly what she brought last year in leadership but also productivity,” Ogwumike said. “She played out of position as her career has shown and she stepped up to it.”
To get acquainted with each other, Sparks players rely on Zoom and text messages. However, some bonds can only be made in-person, according to Fisher.
“It’s not easy to develop the type of chemistry in particularly that can carry over onto the court,” he said. “The only thing that really helps that to develop is time on the court together.”