On what turned out to be Derek Fisher’s final possession as the Sparks’ coach, two of the team’s major offseason acquisitions watched from the sideline. Against the Mercury on Sunday, guard Chennedy Carter and center Liz Cambage played a combined 3:10 in the fourth quarter, taking merely one shot between them. Los Angeles lost by seven, marking its seventh defeat of the year and fifth by 10 points or fewer.
Afterward Fisher told reporters he held Cambage out of almost the entirety of the final period because of his team’s continued struggles defending Phoenix’s guards. (Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi scored 48 total points in the Mercury’s win.) However, Fisher also admitted, “Maybe it was a mistake to not have [Cambage] out there in the fourth.”
He no longer has a chance to correct any possible wrongs.
On Tuesday, the Sparks parted ways with Fisher, who had been with the franchise since 2018 and had served as both its coach and general manager since December ’20. In a statement, managing partner Eric Holoman said the decision was made “after a thorough evaluation of the state of our team.”
How Fisher used, or didn’t use, Carter or Cambage is not the sole reason he is not with the franchise as the Sparks enter the second third of their season. But for two players lauded as centerpieces this offseason, his usage of both was often a curiosity.
The Sparks are 5–1 in games in which Carter, a third-year player who averaged more than 17 points per game as a rookie, played 16 or more minutes. They are 0–6 when she has played fewer than 16. Cambage is averaging 15.3 points per game, but so far this season she is putting up her lowest win share per 48 minutes since 2011.
Throughout this season, the Sparks have been searching for answers. Through 12 games, they have cycled through five starting lineups. No franchise has played in more close games than they have. According to stats.WNBA.com, they have logged clutch minutes (defined as leading or trailing by five points or fewer in the final five minutes of a game) in 10 of their 12 contests. And yet, despite a familiarity with crunch time, they have not found a consistent formula, dropping half of those chances and shooting a league-average 40.7% in such situations.
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“We’re clearly used to playing close games,” Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said after Sunday’s loss. “We just have to understand how to break away when we have a lead, how to manage runs, how to start the game off strong and continue to just build off that.”
The task of finding that clarity will now fall to interim coach Fred Williams, who has been with the team since 2019. In a statement, the Sparks said they will “now begin” a search to find a new general manager—an important role, Especially as the midseason cutdown date and trade deadline loom.
In three-plus seasons, Fisher amassed a 54–46 record. In each of his first two, Los Angeles made the postseason. But following the 2020 campaign, All-Stars Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray both left Los Angeles for other organizations, leaving voids that still haven’t been filled. That is also, in part, on Fisher.
Marred by injuries last year, Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. And at 5–7, they sit at No. 8 in the standing, staring down the possibility of consecutive postseason-less years for the first time since 1997 and ’98, the first two seasons of the WNBA.
The Sparks’ next game is Saturday against Las Vegas, giving Williams and assistant coaches Latricia Trammell and Seimone Augustus ample time—taking into account how condensed the W schedule is—to consider how they want to perform going forward. Their offense is much improved this year, but Their defense is currently the league’s worst. That is another immediate problem that needs solving.
Back in 2018, when then general manager Penny Toler was looking to find a new coach, Fisher was the only candidate the franchise considered. Presumably its search will be larger this time around. An organization that is still trying to find its identity and how to bring out the best from its roster now has another major question in need of an answer.
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