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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Herrington heads west to Los Angeles
Following the path of Lindsey Harding, unrestricted free agent Armintie Herrington signed a new contract with the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday.
Herrington, who joined Atlanta in 2009 after two seasons with Chicago, made the move to reunite with Carol Ross, her college coach at Mississippi. Ross was also an assistant for Atlanta before the Sparks named her head coach in 2012.
“While I am very grateful for my time in Atlanta, I hope to bring that extra ‘spark’ to Los Angeles and help take the Sparks to the WNBA Finals," Herrington said in a statement.
Known as a defensive specialist, Herrington ranked fourth in the WNBA in steals last season, recording a career-high 65.
Wiggins returns to California
Unrestricted free agent Candice Wiggins signed a new contract Wednesday with Los Angeles, marking a homecoming of sorts for the Stanford graduate; Wiggins grew up in nearby San Diego.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to play for the Sparks and I am absolutely beside myself with joy and excitement," Wiggins said in a statement.
Last year at Tulsa, Wiggins was close to par with her career numbers, hitting 36 percent of her overall field goals and matching that mark from three-point range. Although she played alongside close friend Skylar Diggins, the guard tandem did not produce desired results.
There will be further reunification for Wiggins beyond a return to southern California: former Tulsa head coach Gary Kloppenburg was hired by Los Angeles as an assistant for 2014.
Dantas signed by Minnesota
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Lynx activated Brazilian center Damiris Dantas via contract signing.
The Lynx drafted her in 2012 as one of many "save for later" picks due to lack of space under the previous 11-player roster limit; teams retain the right to their draft picks until a contract is signed.
Dantas has been effective for Brazil in two FIBA Americas tournaments, and her 6-foot-4 frame will add some length to Minnesota's interior should she get out of training camp.
Larkins inks long-term commitment with Fever
Erlana Larkins, the breakout player of the 2012 playoffs, signed a multi-year deal on Tuesday to stay with the Indiana Fever.
"She came in here two seasons ago and made a statement with her determination and work ethic. I look forward to more good seasons with her anchoring the frontcourt,” said Indiana president and general manager Kelly Krauskopf
Larkins was the only player to start all 34 games for Indiana as lingering injuries limited contributions from other players. The fifth-year forward was eighth in the WNBA in rebounds last season, averaging 7.8 per game.
Ruffin-Pratt returns to Washington
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt headlined a trio of Washington Mystics acquisitions that will at least participate through their training camp session.
Ruffin-Pratt was called up to Washington last year as an undrafted selection. The North Carolina graduate was under the reserved column, meaning she could only negotiate with the Mystics. She averaged 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in her rookie season, appearing in all 34 games.
A'dia Mathies and Jelena Milavanovic were also added to Washington's roster. Mathies was claimed off waivers from Los Angeles.
Appel to remain in San Antonio constellation
San Antonio center Jayne Appel signed a multi-year deal on Tuesday, keeping the one-time All-Star with the only team she has played for.
“Jayne has become one of the premier rebounders and defenders in the WNBA through her consistent improvement," said Dan Hughes, head coach and general manager for the Stars.
San Antonio missed the playoffs last year, but the under-rated Appel is emerging as a post presence. The 6-foot-4 center was fourth in the league in rebounds per game and seventh in blocks for 2013.