The 2020 WNBA season is nearing a close. While the Storm and the Aces battle it out in the Finals, other teams are cleaning out their proverbial lockers. Coach Derek Fisher gave his exit interview with media on Friday and gave his perspective on the season as well as some insight into the future.
Although the ending to the Sparks season was disappointing, Coach Fisher seemed optimistic about what’s to come. In the microwave society we live in, the Sparks second round exit might seem like a failure to most. They were competing against the history of one of the most successful franchises in league history and the expectations that came with the roster additions pretty much made this season, championship or bust. But Fisher knows this is a process. The bubble atmosphere derailed that process a bit but strides were still made.
The Sparks were still trying to establish an identity with all the new blood that was injected into the roster this year. Also, with limited practice time, it’s hard to develop chemistry and continuity. A lot of adjustments were made on the fly. Coach Fisher said the organization is constantly in evaluative mode and will continue to do what’s in the best interest of the team, to put them in position to compete for a title.
With all the hype that surrounded the Sparks this season and many teams not being at full strength, I’m sure a lot of people expected a championship to come easy. But the five-time champion made sure to express that success is hard. He said that people rarely see the backstory as to what it took to reach your ultimate goal. He used the “Iceberg” analogy. People see the beautiful structure on top of the water but they often disregard the part that is submerged below sea level. The tip of the iceberg makes for great scenery but what’s below can sink the Titanic. The steps to success often break people, before they can reach their goal.
Derek Fisher knows he’s fighting against a rich championship history in LA. But as a guy who knows a thing or two about winning titles, he understands that this is a process. This season was a grind in every sense of the word. He said the compressed schedule reminded him of his NBA days. Having to manage the players workload differently and preserving the ladies’ bodies led to success as the year went on. Preserving their energy for games was paramount to the overall health of the team and limited some of the overuse injuries we saw across the league.
From a personnel standpoint, the Sparks will have some decisions to make in the offseason. With Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver opting out, that left room to sign Reshanda Gray and Te’a Cooper prior to the beginning of the season. And they both made the most of their opportunity. Gray had been waived by the New York Liberty in May and Cooper was cut before she even had a chance to prove herself after initially being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury. In true 2020 fashion, COVID did its thing and with no training camp, Cooper was released, and eventually got her shot with the Sparks. With Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Riquna Williams being unrestricted free agents, as well as Reshanda Gray and Brittney Sykes being restricted free agents, the deck might get shuffled a little bit once again.
All in all, Coach Fisher said he was pleased with what the ladies accomplished this season. Between the pandemic, the ongoing fight for social justice and the entire league being sequestered to the IMG campus for the duration of the year, every team had extra baggage. The Sparks however, had a unique perspective on how those things truly impacted the league. They watched their teammate, Nneka Ogwumike, have to prioritize all those matters as she serves as president of the WNBPA, while simultaneously performing at a high level between the lines. Nneka had to split her energy and focus between several endeavors that each required 100% of both.
While they didn’t finish the season the way the might have liked, this experience should prove to be invaluable. There were a lot of great takeaways from this year and Coach Fisher will definitely be looking to build on this season’s momentum. It was a great year for the Sparks and we’re looking forward to seeing what they have in store for the future. If nothing else, they proved to be the undisputed pre-game hype queens of the W for sure, and that’s a title they won’t be relinquishing easily.