The Los Angeles Sparks finalized a multi-year deal with two-time Coach of the Year Curt Miller as their next head coach, sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday. The Sparks announced the hire later Friday.
Miller led the Connecticut Sun to the 2022 WNBA Finals, where they lost in four games to the Las Vegas Aces. As general manager and head coach, Miller shaped the Sun into title contenders over the past handful of seasons. But they have yet to break through for the franchise’s first championship.
The Sparks are in a rebuilding phase after 2016 champions Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray left in free agency over the past few offseasons. Each won WNBA titles elsewhere as the Sparks struggled. They fired former NBA star Derek Fisher during the regular season and are entering a free agency period in which zero starters are signed to contracts.
The deal opens up a coaching position in Connecticut. The Dallas Wings and Indiana Fever are both undergoing coaching searches.
Miller’s Sun success falls short of ultimate banner
The Sun are the winningest franchise since 2017, but have fallen short of a championship despite two Finals appearances and two losses in the semifinals.
Miller, the first openly gay, male head coach in the league, had signed a four-year contract extension in January 2021 that ran through the 2024 season. He noted during the WNBA Finals he was the longest-tenured employee in the Sun organization. In seven seasons, he went 140-86 (.619) and was 16-17 in the playoffs.
Miller was hired by the Sun as coach and general manager heading into the 2016 season, a pivotal time when Connecticut drafted Jonquel Jones with the No. 6 overall pick. She won the MVP in 2021. They traded midseason for guard Courtney Williams, the No. 8 pick that year. After coming minutes from the 2019 WNBA title against the Washington Mystics, Miller brokered a trade for champion DeWanna Bonner in February 2020.
Injuries and opt-outs have impacted their seasons, including this year when point guard Jasmine Thomas tore her ACL in May. Their core five have not all played together for the majority of a season, yet they still made deep playoff runs.
The Sun will now look to hire a new head coach and general manager ahead of a salary cap crunch in free agency. Four of their five regular starters are under large contracts and they’ll likely lose Sixth Player of the Year Brionna Jones because of it. Jones is a two-time All-Star who made $120,000 (the salary cap maximum is around $202,000).
Sparks ready to make moves in free agency
The Sparks have had a messy few years and Miller will be tasked with bringing them back from the bottom half of the league. He’ll have a largely clean slate with the second-most cap room ($996,101) in the league.
There are no starters under contract with 2016 MVP and champion Nneka Ogwumike the key free agent in the group. She has spent her entire career in Los Angeles and seems unlikely to leave, maybe less so now with Miller in town. Two-time champion point guard Kristi Toliver, two-time champion guard Jordin Canada and all-defensive star Brittney Sykes are all free agents as is Chiney Ogwumike, a former Sun star.
Los Angeles has been without a general manager and head coach when they parted ways with Fisher a month into the season. The Sparks hired him as head coach in 2018 after only considering the former Los Angeles Lakers five-time champion for the job. He was 54-46 over three-plus years at the helm and 1-4 in two playoff appearances. In arguably the most memorable moment during Fisher’s tenure, he benched WNBA champion and league superstar Parker in an elimination playoff game in 2019.
In another set of odd moves last offseason, Fisher brought in center Liz Cambage and guard Chennedy Carter. Cambage left the franchise abruptly in July after she reportedly lashed out at teammates. Carter, who is still signed, was rarely utilized and went through a stretch of games in which she didn’t play due to coach’s decision.