When the Los Angeles Sparks introduced the firing of head coach and normal supervisor Derek Fisher Tuesday, there have been a couple of stunning issues concerning the transfer.
The ousting of Fisher didn’t precisely increase eyebrows, contemplating the downturn the Sparks franchise has taken over the previous few years (the drop in common attendance from a league-leading 11,307 followers per sport in 2019 to 4,524 in 2022, per Throughout the Timelineis one unhappy indicator of that pattern). Nonetheless, the midseason timing of the transfer is stunning for a crew that hopes to qualify for the postseason, and the elevation of Fred Williams to interim head coach as an alternative of Latricia Trammell raised some eyebrows.
Williams’ debut with the media in his new function Wednesday lent some readability as to why the Sparks made this specific transfer now.
The Auburn job
Williams had beforehand accepted a task as affiliate head coach with the Auburn Tigers for the 2022-23 season, and was scheduled to go away Los Angeles a while across the All-Star Break. By elevating Williams to interim head coach, the Sparks secured his providers by means of the tip of the season, retaining each him and Trammell within the course of.
“With Auburn, it was purported to transpire in July,” Williams mentioned after apply Wednesday. “Appears to be like prefer it’s extra in the direction of the tip of the season if it’s nonetheless there, which I do know it’s nonetheless there, the chance. I do know that coach Johnnie Harris there’s a very shut buddy and she or he understands the state of affairs. She mentioned just about, hey, you bought to care for the younger women right here and pull them by means of this and, we will wait and see what occurs and decide on the finish of the season what must be executed.”
Trammell is broadly thought to be the supply of L.A.’s defensive success over the previous three seasons (although that has not but carried to 2022) and has interviewed for a number of head teaching jobs in recent times, together with being a finalist for the New York Liberty place this previous offseason. One would hope that she is taken into account as a candidate for the top teaching job in 2023, supplied the Sparks bounce again on protection over the ultimate two-thirds of the season. The crew is at present final within the league in defensive score.
The arrival of Liz Cambage
L.A.’s star acquisition of the 2022 offseason, Liz Cambage, has been open about her admiration for Williams, who coached the middle in 2018, her lone season in Dallas. Cambage beforehand advised me that Williams checked in on her throughout her WNBA hiatus from 2014 to 2017 through e mail, and the 2 bonded over their shared love of music. In her opening press convention after signing with the Sparks, Cambage mentioned, “I made a pinky promise to Coach Fred that we’d meet once more in L.A. Pinky guarantees are robust!”
Though Cambage expressed confidence in Fisher preseason, particularly referencing his time with Shaquille O’Neal as an inspiration for her, and the Sparks have run their offense by means of Cambage all through the primary 12 video games, there seem to have been current fissures.
Fisher has spoken concerning the problem of crafting a profitable protection round a conventional middle who “isn’t at all times going to be up as excessive in pick-and-roll protection and as aggressive on the level of assault as we’ve been accustomed to enjoying.” In the crew’s most up-to-date loss to then 2-8 PhoenixCambage didn’t get on the ground within the closing 7:40, one thing Fisher admitted might have been a mistake postgame.
The Sparks will want the most effective model of Cambage to be at their finest for the remainder of the season, and Williams is the person best-suited for that job. She averaged career-highs in factors, rebounds, offensive score, and internet score in 2018 with the Wings, when she additionally set the single-game WNBA scoring document. Nneka Ogwumike famous that the connection between Cambage and Williams can be key for the crew shifting ahead.
“I discussed that to educate Fred yesterday, I mentioned, with the squad that we have now, particularly with having one of the crucial if not probably the most distinguished middle within the sport, you’ve already coached her, you might have a relationship along with her. in order that’s, that’s plenty of floor that we’ve coated,” Ogwumike mentioned Wednesday. “I believe that’ll actually improve our chemistry as a result of we will’t have her on the market with out the ball working by means of her, , that’s simply pure. So having that chemistry between her and him will assist set up our targets after we’re on the market.”
Williams’ WNBA expertise
Fisher got here into his function with the Sparks as a relative teaching neophyte and was totally new to the WNBA. Though he labored exhausting to determine the league — and introduced in individuals like Williams who had extra institutional data — there was a studying curve particularly in his early years.
There exists no such feeling-out interval with Williams, who was teaching at USC in 1983 and joined the WNBA with the Utah Starzz in 1998. He’s been teaching girls on the skilled degree ever since. Ogwumike referred to as him an OG talked about the “sage-ness” that Williams brings to the function. He’s been an interim coach earlier than, again in 2012 with the Atlanta Dream, and he’s even been the top coach fired midseason, so none of this case actually fazes him.
“It’s a plus, sure, for him to have been across the sport and across the girls’s sport for what, 38-plus years,” Brittney Sykes mentioned. “I wanna say in all probability 40-plus years, coach Fred has been round girls’s basketball and basketball interval. So in fact there’s that degree of consolation figuring out that okay, we have now someone who is aware of the sport out and in who’s been round.”
Williams ended his first apply with a transition drill that Sykes known as “dying”, so her use of the phrase “consolation” following that session is noteworthy.
Nneka Ogwumike’s upcoming free company
Truthful or not, the defining second of Fisher’s Los Angeles tenure would be the 2021 offseason, when Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and Chelsea Grey have been all free brokers, and Parker and Grey left for Chicago and Las Vegas, respectively. Ogwumike signed a two-year contract after the Sparks cored her, however she did take conferences with different groups in free company.
The ache of shedding these two gamers after which watching Parker — who had been in Los Angeles for 13 seasons — win a title with one other crew implies that the first objective for this franchise must be retaining Ogwumike in the course of her profession. A former MVP and member of the W25, Ogwumike is an all-time nice who ought to ceaselessly be a Spark.
Maybe there was some fear that Ogwumike would as soon as once more check the waters in unrestricted free company (when she can’t be cored). The friction between Parker and Fisher was well-documented, however shedding one other All-Star in Grey — who had arguably her finest season underneath Fisher — may forged doubt on Fisher’s skill to retain stars.
Ogwumike advised the media that the gamers weren’t a part of the choice to fireside Fisher, and Sykes mentioned they discovered about his departure when the transfer was full, and Williams had accepted the interim tag. A midseason firing would normally counsel that gamers have been consulted within the course of, however the Sparks chief indicated in any other case.
Even when Ogwumike wasn’t contain in Fisher’s ouster, she seems to wholeheartedly assist his alternative. When requested concerning the prospect of Williams changing into the everlasting head coach, she mentioned, “I imply why not, he’s right here! I really feel like he has plenty of expertise. I’m not attempting to make any sort of public decis
ion, however everybody is aware of Fred, not simply on this crew, not simply on this group — across the league, across the faculty sport. He is aware of what he’s doing. He is aware of what he’s speaking about. So I’m glad that if there have been adjustments made that, , the ball is in his court docket.”
Ogwumike additionally supplied her strongest assertion to this point about her upcoming free company, expressing her need to stay in Los Angeles long-term. She wasn’t particularly questioned about being a free agent, fairly what she hopes to see when it comes to a brand new coach and future stability for the Sparks.
“We have now a coach who has a long time of expertise and I’m completely okay with that,” Ogwumike mentioned. “However , when it comes to what we see subsequent, I’ve at all times had religion in LA, I don’t see myself … carrying another jersey. At the least that’s how I really feel proper now. That’s how I’ve at all times felt and I’m right here to contribute to that stability. I like this crew. I like the town. I like this group. And I labored out in apply as we speak with those who that really feel the identical, so I’m wanting ahead to that.”
Regardless of the midseason upheaval, the Sparks keep their preseason targets of creating the postseason and creating the inspiration for championship contenders for years to come back. In the mean time, Fred Williams offers the soundness and know-how to get that job executed.