Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Canada ready to explore free agency


Playoffs. That’s the first and foremost goal for the Sparks next season, according to Karen Bryant, the team’s general manager and chief administra­tive officer.

The Sparks finished 1723 in 2023, ninth in the standings, and missed the playoffs for the third consecutiv­e season, a franchise record over its 27-year history.

However, the injury- and illness-plagued team never played a game this season with 11 or 12 active players, constantly forcing the team to play shorthande­d and sometimes down to eight or nine players, according to Sparks coach Curt Miller.

The Sparks will have two first-round picks in 2024. They will have the third-best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and another firstround pick from the Las Vegas Aces via compensati­on as part of the Dearica Hamby trade in January.

As Bryant heads into her second offseason with the Sparks, she said improvemen­t will be a fourpronge­d approach.

“I think at the end of the day, there’s three paths to improve, add more talent and build your rosters. It’s through trades, free agency and the draft,” said Bryant in a virtual exit interview Thursday. “In addition, I’ll name a fourth, which is to continue to develop the talent you have, and we’re going to be relentless in leveraging every single one of those paths to improve our team.”

Recent multi-year contract extensions for potential free agents such as Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, Chicago’s Kahleah Copper, and New York’s Betnijah Laney took those three All-stars off the free agency board for the Sparks.

In constructi­ng next season’s 12-person roster, Bryant said the team will likely feature several familiar faces. Key players such as Hamby, Azurá Stevens, Stephanie Talbot, Lexie Brown and Zia Cooke are under contract for next season.

“At this stage, it’s going to look more similar than it looks different,” Bryant said. “We need to add some really important pieces. Obviously we’re really hoping that the balls bounce our way in the draft lottery and that will be a key acquisitio­n for us as we continue to get better and also invest in youth. ... Continuity is a really important part of success in this league.”

The 2023 season was the franchise’s first under the

LOS ANGELES >> collaborat­ive leadership between Bryant and head coach Curt Miller. Both knew, with a 7-13 record at the All-star break, that not making the postseason was a stark possibilit­y during July’s midseason state of the team address.

The team, which endured a franchise-record eight-game losing streak between June 28 and July 25, nearly reversed those misfortune­s with a six-game winning streak in August and finished 1010 over their last 20 games.

“We won’t shy away that (making the playoffs) starts with great people and you win in the locker room,” said Miller, who made the playoffs for six consecutiv­e years in Connecticu­t before taking over in Los Angeles this season. “My career has been defined by building teams and then having sustained success, so what is really important to me is that we continue to build and we build it with great people and we build it in the locker room first. Something that’s attractive to free agents and players throughout the league, but our next step is to get into the playoffs.”

For next season’s positional needs, Miller would like to see “offensive growth” and “more 3-point shooting” and said he could see the Sparks’ versatile forwards benefiting from adding “a back-to-the-basket post player.”

“None of it will be off the table. We’re excited about improving one way or the other through player acquisitio­n,” Miller said. “We’re not afraid to admit, we need to take a jump up in a lot of areas, but really proud of how we played after the All-star break, really proud of where the defense came from in May when you’re institutin­g a totally different philosophy and philosophi­cal approach at the defensive end than what we walked into for the veterans.”

Sparks guard Jordin Canada emerged as one of the most-improved players in the WNBA, according to Miller. The former Windward High and UCLA star finished with several career highs: 13.3 points, 6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. She shot 40.4% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc, a 19% improvemen­t from the prior season.

Despite her individual success, Canada, 28, was candid about wanting to explore free agency.

“We will see where free agency goes,” Canada said. “Obviously, L.A. is special to me and being here and having the opportunit­y to play the last two seasons. I’m always going to keep my options open and see what would be the best fit for me. But like I said, being here in L.A. is home, but I still would like to keep my options open and see what free agency is like (in 2024).”

The 5-foot-6, two-time WNBA champion with

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