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Sparks add Coffey to mix, and coach-GM Derek Fisher drinks in revamped roster

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As the Sparks head into their 25th season in the WNBA, the bar is high for one of the league’s original franchises: bring home a fourth title.

On Thursday, head coach and general manager Derek Fisher offered his assessment of the busy free agency period and how he envisions the pieces fitting together.

“We know it’s professional sports and there are some givens, but what’s great about this group and what’s been great about this free agency process is that every player we’ve spoken to wants to be a part of what we’re doing, they understand what we’re trying to create and they’re ready to come in and compete.”

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Earlier in the day, the Sparks announced the signing of 6-foot-1 guard/forward Nia Coffey, who is entering her fifth year in the league and played in the 2020 WNBA bubble with the Phoenix Mercury. She has started 18 of her 98 career games and is a 35% shooter from three-point range.

She was picked fifth in the 2017 WNBA draft by the San Antonio Stars. Her father Richard played in the NBA and brother Amir is a current player with the Clippers.

“Nia Coffey gives us additional athleticism, youth and versatility on the wing,” Fisher said. “She has shown the ability to make outside shots, attack the basket and defend multiple positions. We’re excited to have her join our group and compete.”

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Previous roster additions in free agency were Erica Wheeler, Bria Holmes and Amanda Zahui B. The Sparks also deepened the roster by re-signing sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes, Te’a Cooper and Seimone Augustus.

“Our frontcourt starts with Nneka,” Fisher said. “We made the important decision to have a conversation with her about what the future of this organization would look like and how we saw her fitting into it and us fitting into her vision.

“We’re also excited to see Maria Vadeeva probably closer to the second half of the season this year. Chiney and Amanda were great additions and with a young developing player in Kristine Anigwe, we definitely have a lot of directions we can go up front. Ultimately we want to have as many tools as possible.”

Fisher, part of five NBA championship teams in two stints with the Lakers, predicts players will have to compete for everything in training camp.

“Unless things change with Maria we would have the opportunity to have a 16th player when camp starts, which could be our 10th pick in the draft or our second-round pick at 22,” Fisher said. “It depends on how many things happen over the next month or month and a half.

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“We were very intentional about the players that we’re adding. Not to mention a player like Kristi Toliver who will be in camp. We haven’t had a chance to see her, at least in uniform, since she re-signed with us before the 2020 season. Training camp is going to be different in a lot of ways. It’s a new era of Sparks basketball, we’re moving in a different direction and everyone’s looking forward to the journey.”

While Fisher is sad to see stars Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray leave, he described the meetings with them as “positive” and wished them success with their new teams.

“Going into conversations with Chelsea and Candace, we understood the risk,” Fisher said. “We knew both were unrestricted free agents and would have the option to choose other teams. We respect their decisions and the opportunity for Candace to go back to Chicago where her basketball career started. Chelsea had the opportunity to visit with Las Vegas last year during her somewhat more restricted type of free agency experience and I think that experience factored into the decision she made this year.”

Fisher is optimistic about the direction the team is going and claimed the ownership group is as engaged as its ever been. He is embracing the added role of GM but recognizes that it is a year-around commitment.

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“I intentionally signed up for it because this team has been in L.A. for 25 years and it’s as accomplished as any professional sports team can be in that time period in terms of the championships won and the number of playoff appearances,” Fisher said. “We’ve tried to build a team that will physically be able to sustain the pace we want to play at.

“We have a combination of youth and athleticism and as highly accomplished a group of veterans as you will ever see. You add Amanda’s size, rebounding and toughness in the middle with her ability to space the floor offensively from the center position and that makes our offense so much more efficient. We’ve had a top-three defense in the league the last two seasons, but in the postseason we’ve stalled offensively, honestly. So we’ve added pieces that’ll allow us to break teams down offensively and make us a more complete team.”

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