One game. It’s all the Sparks got in the 2020 WNBA playoffs before their season came to an end on Thursday with a loss to the Connecticut Sun in the second round.

And with the season reaching its end, one of the most consequential offseasons in franchise history is about to begin.

The Sparks have nine players set to become free agents this winter, according to contract details on Spotrac.com. You might have heard of a few of them.

Like Candace Parker. Chelsea Gray. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. Brittney Sykes, Riquna Williams, Te’a Cooper, Seimone Augustus and Reshanda Gray.

For those keeping track at home, that’s four starters off this year’s team, four bench contributors, and one former All-Star (Chiney Ogwumike) who opted out of this season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Essentially, it’s the Sparks’ entire team that can opt to leave this offseason. But none are more important to retain than Parker.

She is a lifelong Spark, having just completed her 13th season with the franchise that drafted her first overall in 2008. She’s the lone remaining connection on the roster to the Lisa Leslie era, and she’s made her own name for herself as a two-time MVP and with a WNBA title in 2016.

And Parker proved this year she has a lot left in the tank. She finished third in MVP voting after leading the Sparks in scoring, steals and blocks and leading the WNBA in rebounding. She was also named the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year.

After the season-ending loss to Connecticut, Parker reiterated her desire to stay with the Sparks while adding, “Never say never.” She expressed frustration at the series of missed opportunities for additional rings in her career, but said she didn’t want to take the easy way out.

“I’m loyal. I never say never, but at the same time, I’ve been with Adidas my entire career, stayed at Tennessee when things got hard. I don’t quit,” she said. “I’ve had a number of opportunities and a number of times where it’s been a real option to leave and I don’t want to leave L.A. But at the same time, we gotta get better. Can’t keep saying next year.”

There’s reason to believe the Sparks can still compete for titles, so long as they keep the rest of the band together.

Nneka Ogwumike, who led the Sparks with 24 points, is surrounded by a trio of Las Vegas Aces in an 84-70 loss in their regular-season finale Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Nneka Ogwumike is herself a former MVP, winning the award in 2016 during the Sparks’ championship run. The importance of her presence was evident on Thursday as L.A. looked like a shell of itself as she was sidelined with a migraine.

Gray was a first-team All-WNBA selection in 2019, and led the Sparks in assists in 2020. When the team found itself down in second halves this season, it was frequently Gray who hit shots to start comebacks.

She didn’t give a direct answer Thursday when asked about her pending free agency, but did talk about the Sparks in the future tense, saying, “I think we gotta get through this year, find a way to get better on and off the court and come back next year even better and even greater.”

Sykes, acquired this past offseason in a trade with Atlanta, proved to be one of L.A.’s most valuable two-way players in 2020. She is a restricted free agent coming off her rookie deal, so the Sparks will have the right to match any offer sheet she signs with another team.

Cooper, Williams and Augustus all represented key bench production for the Sparks this year.

So even if the 2020 season is over, the Sparks’ work is just beginning.

 

tinyurlis.gdu.nuclck.ruulvis.netshrtco.de