With the Los Angeles Sparks firmly in place for 2014 and beyond, their flurry of transactions this week indicate their intent to challenge the pecking order of the WNBA and its Western Conference.
The Sparks capped off a furious 48-hour period of activity by signing unrestricted free agent Candice Wiggins on Wednesday, adding another long-distance threat to a guard unit that includes Lindsey Harding, Armintie Herrington and Kristi Toliver. Herrington signed with the team on Tuesday.
Los Angeles also made two trades. On Tuesday, backup guard Jenna O'Hea was shipped to Seattle in exchange for their 2015 second-round pick. On Monday, the Sparks traded their first-round draft pick, the 11th overall, to Connecticut in exchange for Sandrine Gruda.
Upon first impression, giving up a valuable pick for a player who last competed in the WNBA in 2010 left fans befuddled, but moves since then signal the team's initiative to acquire more veterans.
A common bond exists with the Los Angeles free agent signings: both pickups are highly familiar with Minnesota's personnel and playing style. Wiggins spent the first five seasons of her career with the Lynx, winning a title with them in 2011. Herrington dueled against them in 2011 and 2013 with Atlanta in the WNBA Finals, suffering sweeps on both occasions.
For those concerned about how the Sparks can fit so many top-tier guards on the floor, Wiggins has split time between point guard and shooting guard, particularly when she was on Minnesota's roster. Harding and Herrington were teammates in Atlanta for two seasons, and Harding expressed her enthusiasm to collaborate with Herrington once more.
“She will bring additional athleticism and defense to our team and we are lucky to have her in Los Angeles,” Harding said in a statement.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike also chimed in, commenting on the addition of Wiggins. The two are both graduates of Stanford, but never played a game together. Wiggins ended her college career in the spring of 2008, and the eldest of the Ogwumike sisters began her Cardinal tenure that fall.
"Now that she’s coming to Los Angeles, I have a wonderful opportunity to play with my fellow ‘Nerdie’. Candice is a spectacular player," Ogwumike said.
Los Angeles still lacks a solid wing, but that position could be addressed in future deals, which may include a play for another first-round pick.
While the Sparks continue their reassembly, other teams in the league are taking the route of continuity. Minnesota signed 2012 draft pick Damiris Dantas on Wednesday, ending an idle period of two seasons. Although the Lynx have locked in their entire primary rotation from last year's team, the lack of interior depth was exposed when Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville missed a few games due to injury. With an extra roster space available for teams this season, the Lynx have more flexibility to activate players on standby.
Dantas is only 21 years old, but boasts respectable credentials with her Brazilian national team in international tournaments. As always, translation from the international game to the American variety is yet to be determined, but the Lynx have the luxury of developing players in the background.
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