How Liz Cambage leaving the Los Angeles Sparks impacts the WNBA playoff race

The Los Angeles Sparks have had their share of chaos through the 2022 WNBA season, however extra disarray ensued this week when four-time All-Star heart Liz Cambage requested to go away the workforce. The group introduced a contract divorce Tuesday, which means the Sparks will probably be with out their prized free company acquisition shifting ahead as they battle to safe a playoff spot after lacking the postseason final yr for the primary time in a decade.

If the season ended as we speak, the Sparks could be the No. 6 seed within the playoffs, however the Dallas Wings, Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury are all inside a half recreation. The highest eight groups within the WNBA standings advance to the postseason.

Cambage’s stint with the Sparks appeared pre-ordained: Ever since she was drafted in 2011, she made it clear she needed to play in Los Angeles, a spot she admired rising up in Australia. Her time with the group that drafted her, Tulsa/Dallas, ended when she requested a commerce forward of the 2019 season. She spent two seasons with the Las Vegas Aces earlier than signing with the Sparks within the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

Forward of the 2022 marketing campaign, Cambage appeared excessive on the Sparks’ possibilities to make some noise within the WNBA this season.

“It may be essentially the most wild summer time the WNBA has ever seen,” Cambage stated in April, “and we’ll have a hoop on the finish of it.”

It was a wild summer time certainly. The Sparks misplaced 5 consecutive video games within the first 2½ weeks of the season, and fired then-head coach and general manager Derek Fisher in early June. And now Cambage departs the group she desperately needed to be a part of for therefore lengthy, along with her prospects of taking part in once more within the league seemingly in query.

The place does Cambage’s departure depart the Sparks, what’s subsequent for the workforce and for Cambage’s WNBA future?

How does the Sparks’ lineup and playoff hopes change?

Within the two video games Cambage missed just lately in COVID-19 protocols, the Sparks went 1-1, falling to the top-ranked Chicago Sky by 12 and beating the last-place Indiana Fever by seven. Chiney Ogwumike began in Cambage’s place, recording a double-double in one of many video games and falling simply wanting one other.

With Cambage gone, if the Sparks need to safe a spot within the postseason, Nneka Ogwumike might want to proceed to play on the MVP-caliber degree she has demonstrated thus far this season, whereas Chiney Ogwumike might want to come out along with her greatest basketball of the summer time and keep wholesome taking part in extra minutes (she missed a handful of video games earlier this season with a knee harm after which a non-COVID sickness). Rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who has had a stable begin to her professional profession, may also seemingly see extra time.



Chiney Ogwumike traces up a trey for the Sparks.

Whereas Cambage’s minutes have been considerably restricted throughout her quick stint in L.A. — she performed greater than 30 minutes simply twice this season, each instances in Could — she nonetheless supplied an inside presence, might management the glass and was adept at making it to the free throw line. These will probably be areas the place Chiney Ogwumike and Nelson-Ododa must assist out Nneka Ogwumike.

Of lineups with out Cambage which have seen greater than 25 minutes on the ground this season, the core of Nneka Ogwumike/Chiney Ogwumike/Brittney Sykes/Lexie Brown with both Jordin Canada or Katie Lou Samuelson have been essentially the most profitable, with internet rankings of roughly plus-22. These Cambage-less lineups notably fared higher defensively than ones with the four-time All-Star heart.

By agreeing to a contract divorce (i.e. buyout) with Cambage versus needing to eat her full wage, the Sparks opened up cap house so as to add a alternative. Shortly after the announcement on Cambage, L.A. re-signed Kianna Smith to a seven-day contract.

That stated, accidents and sicknesses have been an issue for the Sparks all season, as not one participant has appeared in all 27 video games this yr. Chiney Ogwumike, Brown and Kristi Toliver have been sidelined Saturday, the Sparks’ most up-to-date recreation in opposition to the Aces, whereas Sykes, Canada and Chennedy Carter have additionally missed significant time this summer time. Staying wholesome will probably be vital for L.A. down the stretch. — Philippou

What challenges does the Sparks’ upcoming schedule maintain with simply greater than two weeks left within the common season?

With 9 video games left within the 2022 season, Los Angeles controls its personal playoff future. The Sparks play every of the opposite three groups (the Atlanta Dream, Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury) presently separated by a single loss within the standings for the final three spots within the WNBA postseason. (At 12-15, Los Angeles is tied for sixth with Dallas; Atlanta and Phoenix are a half-game again at 12-16.)

These head-to-head conferences, starting Friday at Phoenix within the Sparks’ first recreation with out Cambage, will probably be particularly vital as a result of the season collection tiebreaker is at stake in every of them. Los Angeles holds 2-1 head-to-head leads over each the Mercury and Wings, so a loss would imply shifting to the subsequent tiebreaker (file in opposition to groups .500 or higher), whereas the season collection with the Dream will probably be determined when the groups meet on Aug. 5.

Exterior of these three video games, the Sparks may have a chance to knock the opposite two playoff hopefuls — the New York Liberty, two video games again, and Minnesota Lynx, three again of Los Angeles — out of the image. The subsequent three video games for Los Angeles after visiting Phoenix will probably be internet hosting Minnesota, then back-to-back on the Barclays Middle in opposition to the Liberty.

The Sparks will not face a workforce forward of them within the standings till the season’s closing week, once they go to the Washington Mystics and host the Connecticut Sun in back-to-back video games. By then, Los Angeles can hope to construct sufficient cushion to not want wins to keep away from having a playoff spot on the road when Dallas visits to shut the common season on Aug. 14.

ESPN’s Basketball Energy Index tasks the Sparks making the playoffs in 56% of simulations, the bottom odds among the many group of 4 groups battling for the ultimate three spots, however indicative of how wide-open the race stays. — Pelton

What is the future for Cambage within the WNBA?

We’d have already got seen Cambage’s final WNBA recreation. The Sparks have been capable of signal her for lower than the utmost wage as a free agent largely due to the restricted marketplace for her companies final winter.

That got here earlier than the general public discovered of allegations that Cambage directed a racial slur final yr to members of Nigeria’s nationwide workforce throughout a pre-Olympics scrimmage with Australia’s nationwide workforce. Cambage has denied the allegations, which have been already identified inside league circles by the point she turned a free agent.

When The Sunday Telegraph reported in Could on the small print of Cambage’s actions, citing Nigerian gamers who remained nameless, Sparks gamers and then-coach Fisher publicly supported her. Now that Cambage has left Los Angeles, it is unclear the place else within the league she would possibly discover that form of backing.

Regardless of Cambage’s continued productiveness — she averaged factors, 9.9 rebounds, a career-high three.2 assists and a pair of.5 blocks per 36 minutes with the Sparks, not far off her marks as an All-Star the earlier three seasons she performed within the WNBA — that is now two groups in lower than a yr which have determined they’re higher off with out her. The Las Vegas Aces moved on after two seasons with Cambage, liberating her to signal with Los Angeles.

This time, Cambage would possibly discover herself with out one other touchdown spot. — Pelton

It is price noting that after the Sparks fired Fisher, Cambage was as soon as once more below the tutelage of Fred Williams, her former coach in Dallas with whom she had a very shut relationship. With out subscribing blame a technique or one other, the truth that issues deteriorated with Cambage whereas working with one in all her few remaining supporters within the W does not bode effectively for her possibilities of discovering a brand new dwelling within the league shifting ahead. — Philippou

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