Sparks waive Te’a Cooper, Arella Guirantes and Kianna Smith

View Original Notice ? Sparks waive Te’a Cooper, Arella Guirantes and Kianna Smith

With the curtain set to rise on the 2022 WNBA season on Friday, the Sparks waived returning guards Te’a Cooper and Arella Guirantes and rookie guard Kianna Smith, the 2017 Orange County Register Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

With Wednesday’s cuts, the Sparks have 14 players on a roster that eventually will have to be whittled to 12.

For now, the Sparks will open play in Chicago against Candace Parker and the defending champion Sky with 11 players in uniform. L.A. remains without Kristi Toliver, who is on a playoff run with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, for whom she’s an assistant coach. Also, wing Katie Samuelson and center Amanda Zahui B. aren’t back from their overseas playing commitments.

Derek Fisher, the Sparks’ general manager and coach, has stressed versatility, length and athleticism the past couple of years. This season’s draft and the team’s subsequent cuts seem to reflect those priorities.

With the exception of 5-foot-9 Brittany Sykes (who can dunk) and Chennedy Carter (a burgeoning star), Jordin Canada (5-6), Lexie Brown (5-9) and Toliver (5-7) – all guards who’ve won WNBA titles – are the only players shorter than 6 feet on the roster.

After picking 6-foot-3 wing Jasmine Walker in the first round in 2021, in last month’s draft, the Sparks selected 6-foot-1 guard Rae Burrell out of Tennessee at No. 9, 6-5 Olivia Nelson-Ododa out of Connecticut 19th and 6-foot Amy Atwell, a sharpshooter who set records at Hawaii, in the third round, 27th overall.

Atwell made her case in preseason play, including on Saturday against Phoenix, when she came off the bench and hit all six of her 3-point attempts and helped the Sparks outscore the Mercury by 20 points in her 15 minutes on the floor of a game the Sparks won, 87-84.

On April 23, Nelson-Ododa recorded a double-double in her first WNBA action, leading L.A. with 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and a steal in a preseason loss to Seattle – an effort that didn’t go unnoticed by her new teammates, including star center Liz Cambage.

Asked Tuesday what impressed her about her first Sparks training camp, Cambage volunteered: “Livia. Big O really been putting in that work. She had a double-double that game against Seattle, so she’s really been impressing me so far.”

Since last season, the Sparks created a competitive logjam at guard by bringing aboard Carter, Canada, Brown and Burrell. They helped alleviate the crunch Wednesday, when they said goodbye to the three guards, including the 5-8 Cooper, who played her first two WNBA seasons for L.A. after she was waived by Phoenix ahead of the WNBA bubble in 2020.

One of the most WNBA’s most popular players – Cooper has 1.5 million Instagram followers – she scored 8.2 points per game on 40.1% shooting and averaged 1.6 assists and 0.8 steals per game. In the Sparks’ disappointing, injury-plagued season last summer, she started 13 of 31 games.

Guirantes overcame steep odds to earn a spot on the Sparks’ roster last season after she was drafted No. 22 overall and missed most of training camp due to COVID health and safety protocols. A former star at Rutgers, the 5-11 Guirantes averaged 3.2 points, 1.3 rebounds in 25 games as a rookie.

In this year’s draft, the Sparks selected Smith, once a Fullerton Troy High School standout who was born in Moreno Valley, No. 16 overall. In the preseason game in Seattle, the former Louisville standout had three points, three rebounds and an assist.

Cambage, by nature of being one of the best players in women’s basketball, doesn’t have experience being left off of teams. But she said Tuesday she counsels young players on the bubble to keep pushing.

“I do know that every closed door, there’s a million ones that are about to open,” said Cambage, a four-time All-Star. “This isn’t the end of the world, this is just the beginning for these girls, and that’s what I try to remind them every time, every camp. There’s gonna be other teams, there’s gonna be other doorways – use this to get better.”

Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike, a two-time All-Star and the 2014 WNBA Rookie of the Year, said she wishes one of those doorways led to a developmental league akin to the NBA’s G League – especially because the 12 teams in the WNBA can carry no more than 12 players at a time, and some carry fewer because of salary cap limitations.

“I was just looking at some of the names that have been cut or waived, like, high draft picks,” Ogwumike said Tuesday, when the Minnesota Lynx waived the 2020 WNBA Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield – a move that came a few days after the Sparks waived Lauren Cox, making it the second time since she was drafted third overall in 2020 that she was cut.

“In no circumstance should we have a league where high draft picks aren’t on a roster,” Ogwumike said. “It’s a testament to how competitive it is to be in the WNBA, but also the room for growth to hopefully expand.”