Los Angeles: building championship teams takes time

Alana Beard’s shot bounced off the rim, the final buzzer sounded, and the 10,000 standing people at Staples Center deflated in an instant. The Sparks season was over, and fans are in mourning.

But the hand-wringing and dire predictions for this team began long before yesterday’s Western Conference finals loss. Since the draft lottery almost two weeks ago, both fans and media members have said that if the Sparks didn’t win this year, they never would – that this was their last chance.

Their reasoning is that Phoenix stands to draft 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner with their top pick, and then Chicago and Tulsa will take Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins with second and third. Minnesota’s incredible depth isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, because the team is young, and the Sun is growing by leaps and bounds under coaching wizard Mike Thibault. Bottom line: the league will only get stronger from here, thus the “last chance for LA” theory.

What a short-sighted, narrow-minded viewpoint.

First, let’s start with the myth that the Sparks had a championship team this year: they did not.

LA had an excellent team, and one that was much-improved from last year. They had a healthy Candace Parker, who balled out of her mind; Kristi Toliver, who was the league’s most improved player; Alana Beard, who demonstrated why she was once one of the WNBA’s top picks; and rookie of the year Nneka Ogwumike. Last year they didn’t make the playoffs, and this year they lost two games at home and played for the Western Conference title. Much of this dramatic improvement can be attributed to coach of the year Carol Ross, who came to the franchise in January.

But the Sparks lacked depth, and two players battled injuries all season long. When crunch time came in games such as yesterday’s, that light bench showed.

The fact that LA fans made the quantum leap from basement to “we’re winning a championship this year” isn’t surprising. Sports aficionados here are spoiled, and have unrealistic expectations of titles every year, on both the women’s and men’s sides. It’s not wrong to strive for a championship, but to expect it and view it as an entitlement is an LA thing. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The second faulty line of reasoning is thinking that next year’s “big three” rookies will immediately take over the league. Griner will have an impact, to be sure, but she will still have a lot to learn, as her game is far from perfect. Delle Donne and Diggins will help the Sky and Shock, but both of those teams need much more than one fine rookie to elevate to the next level.

Minnesota will continue to be a force, but as they’ve shown this year, they are vulnerable; it takes work to repeat a championship over and over. And what if, God forbid, someone gets injured? Same with the Sun – they are on track, but there are always unknown factors that can come up.

Building championship teams takes time. It doesn’t happen in one season, or even two. It takes a good coach like Ross, recruiting effective player personnel, and developing team chemistry over seasons. Sparks fans need to be patient, and drop the “sky is falling” mentality. The team has all the potential in the world to win a championship with a leader like Parker, who showed how much she really cares over this entire season – and especially in these playoffs.

Hopefully, Sparks management has finally found a group of core players that they plan to keep around for a number of years, as it’s always been my feeling that their constant personnel changes have adversely effected team chemistry over the years. Then, as Seimone Augustus said last night about Parker, the Sparks have got to keep working and stay focused.

When a team has got “it,” they know it, and so do the fans. The most recent best example of that is the 2010 Seattle Storm. When they came to LA that June to play in the league’s outdoor game, I knew from watching them play together and talking to them in the locker room that they would win the title. They did. They were in complete and total sync.

The Sparks have plenty of chances to win a title sometime in the near future. They need to SLIGHTLY tweak their roster (instead of scrapping it as they usually do), and work on defense, among other things. LA fans need to realize that great things don’t happen overnight, and they need to stop whining and expecting an immediate championship. There is plenty to be optimistic about: just look at how far the Sparks have come this year under Ross. The sky is the limit.

Patience. This society is in short supply these days, but LA fans need to get some.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Certainly some good points. That said, championship runs are always made up of imperfect teams and a funky combination of skill, luck and lack of injuries.

    I think most fan's concerns are those issues you call out. Parker is definitely the best player in the league but given her injury history fans would be naive to just assume now that she's healthy she stays that way going forward. As you know her injury challenges go all the way back to college. Further the general injury history in the W for whatever reason means that squad stability is always going to be a huge concern. Kinda means you have to make hay while the sun shines.

    I think Ross is an OK coach, but I hope someone owns up to how the team fell apart during crunch time. Hearing from Ross that games are made up of many plays and opportunities might make some feel warm and fuzzy but it doesn't negate the fact that the Sparks fell apart after Parker's successful three point launch. It should also be remembered that the reason she shanked that shot up there when she did to begin with was because the Sparks were within a few seconds of a shot clock violation.

    My point is that if they had even tried to play defense on MN's last three pointer and if they had gotten the ball to Parker in the final six seconds for at least a chance at a game winner or a foul and potential game winning free throws fans would feel better about it.

    It's hard to feel to warm and fuzzy when such obvious screw ups were made at the end of the game, particularly given that Parker was Hot, Hot, Hot at the time. This is basic basketball type stuff. Play defense, go to your shooter that's in the Zone. It's not Phil Jackson basketball zen coaching genius material. Jeez. It's insane and they need to own it.

    If the W wants serious fans then the games need to be played that way to gain credibility from people that truly understand and appreciate the game.

  2. You and a bunch of others need to shut up with the "if the W wants serious fans" shit.

    This is a coaching issue, period. Get off the fan bullshit. I'm sick and tired of it.

  3. Whoo! I really have some nutcases check into this space sometimes.

    I will save you all the belligerency. But this latest post, once I called him on his stuff, then went ape and suddenly turned into anti-women's basketball fan. Called the WNBA "affirmative action."

    He reminds me of those panhandlers who call you a bitch if you don't give them money.

  4. Wow…. Not even gonna touch that last mess. Hey Sue, some great points made in your piece and most of it I agree with. I also agree that LA did not have "a championship team" but I do believe they could have won a championship despite that. They allowed themselves to be taken out of game 2 in the 1st quarter and spent the rest of the game righting the ship. And when they got it upright, they let go of what got them there.

    If you look at some of LA's losses, they were games that LA gave away due to their lack of consistency. I love DMJ, but where was she in the WCC series, nowhere. Is the loss her fault they lost, of course not, but I think the entire starting line up showed up together maybe once or twice this season.

    The lack of of TRUE point guard and bench support was their achilles heal and everyone knew it. The Sparks bench SUCKED in comparison to some of the others!!! 1 shooting guard, 2forwards and 2 centers… None of whom showed any consistency this season.

    When you compare LA with Minnesota, there is NO comparison. It is not only about the talent level, it is truly about team chemistry and that is what will win Minnesota a championship.

    I think Carol Ross deserved COY, cause there is no way they would have had the same success under the previous regime. Was that last play call the right one…… IMO it was not. But we can all 2nd guess her.

    Let's face it, it wasn't their year. If it was, the freethrows would have fallen, Maya Moore wouldn't be hitting 3s when blanketed by 3 players and that last shot would've gone it…. Such is life….

    I have no doubt that with some tweaks the Sparks will be back as strong next year. Are Brittany Griners, Elena Della Donne and Sky Digg gonna be equal to the 2nd coming of Christ (or whatever)… Probably not. Are they going to help their teams? Hell ya… IMO the league it going to be even more competetive next season, with healthy players and some young new talent…

    Until then…. Bring on the college season…. GO BRUINS!!!!!!

  5. Hey Gail, that's interesting that you differentiate having a championship team with winning a championship. Going to have to think about that more…….

    I agree with you on most of what you say. Ross deserved COY, but that last play was terrible. And if Sharnee Zoll hadn't torn her ACL, the Sparks would have had a great point guard, and who knows what would have happened after that. But woulda and coulda are wastes of time.

    Like yourself, I'm psyched about college season!

  6. I differentiate because the most talented teams don't always win as expected. I talked to a lot of folks who really thought the Sparks were gonna take Minn.

    The Sparks could have pulled off the upset if they brought their A-game. The problem,they didn't show up for game 1 and gave away game 2. IMO LA could have beat the Lynx if all 5, CP through NNeka, along with 1 or 2 bench players left it all on the floor. It wasn't gone be because they were more talented, it was gone be straight up blue collar work. And they HAD to win game 1…..

    The worse part for me was the raw emotion of CP. That girl left her soul on the court……b

  7. Very well-put with regards to CP. I have something brewing on that which I'll be posting pretty soon……

    PS – Yes, they were capable of beating Minnesota just as much as they did on Sept. 20.

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