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Chelsea Gray, Sparks will miss Jantel Lavender, whose departure opens up some possibilities

LOS ANGELES — For Chelsea Gray, the All-Star point guard who returned to L.A. just days ago from playing in Turkey, her fifth WNBA season is going to take some extra getting used to.
There’s a new coach, a new staff, she’s the last one to arrive to camp following her commitments abroad and, for her first time with the Sparks, there’s no Jantel Lavender — the Mike to her Ike, said Gray in a nod to those chewy fruit-flavored candies.
On Monday, the Sparks traded Lavender, the center whose entire eight-year career was with L.A., for whom she was an All-Star and a key cog of the WNBA championship team in 2016. She was dealt to the Chicago Sky for a 2020 second-round draft pick.
The move alleviates some of the current crowding in the frontcourt and, because the Sparks now have one fewer veteran’s contract on the books, it potentially creates room for them to carry 12 players instead of 11, Coach Derek Fisher said after Tuesday’s practice at L.A. Southwest College, where Sparks great and WNBA pioneer Lisa Lisa was on hand to watch, as was Notre Dame women’s coach Muffet McGraw.
“I haven’t gotten a chance to coach Jantel before, but I’ve respected her and her game and what she’s accomplished in this league for a long time,” Fisher said. “I’ll miss the opportunity to coach her, but I do think that, due to the way things are set up in the WNBA, based on your number of guaranteed contracts, you can either carry 11 players or you can carry 12 players. And I think in some respects now, not having Jantel, as we’re evaluating talent, the option at least is there to carry 12.
“And for me as a coach, that’s a possibly a positive. We’ll see, because we’re gonna miss Jantel. But if we can find a way to put together a 12-player roster that can help us to handle all situations we’re gonna face, I think that can be a good thing. There was no secret that we’re really crowded in the frontcourt, we drafted center Kalani (Brown) at No. 7, we traded for (forward) Chiney Ogwumike in recent weeks, so it’s hard to play everybody and keep everyone happy.”












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New beginnings don’t take away wonderful memories! I want to thank the @la_sparks for having me for eight years. I won a championship, made amazing friendships, and I learned so so much about who I am as a person. As many know I’ve had my ups and downs as a player in LA, but at the core of my being I tried to stay consistent with who I am as a person. I stand tall in this moment, shoulders back and confident as I’ve felt in a long time. Thanks to everyone who has reached out to me, to all the fans who supported me and never changed, I love you! Everyone who I met in California you all will truly be missed. My girls @candaceparker @cgray209 @alanabeard @nnemkadi I LOVE YOU for life. If I never said it before! Have an amazing season I’ll see you guys when we play! With that being said I am extremely excited for this new opportunity, a clean slate and new teammates to make amazing memories with!
A post shared by Jantel Lavender (@jantellav) on May 20, 2019 at 1:54pm PDT


Still the transaction hits Gray hard, she said.
“That’s been one of my true friends, so she’ll be missed greatly, on and off the court,” said Gray, who has yet to practice with the team and still is fighting to stay awake at 6 p.m. on the West Coast. “On the court, she’s energetic, very passionate about the game and has different roles, she can pop, she can do post moves, she has a plethora of options.
“But off the court, she’s an amazing person and Chicago got a gem. I’ll miss her for sure, but off the court she’s still one of my best friends and she’ll remain that way. I love her to death, so it’s hard to have that person leave, but off the court, we’ll still talk and be as close.”
PARKER UPDATE: NO REAL UPDATE
Candace Parker remains sidelined after suffering a hamstring injury early in the Sparks’ first preseason game at Phoenix on May 11. While her teammates scrimmaged Tuesday, she received treatment near the court.
“She’s coming along pretty good,” Fisher said, cautioning about expecting Parker back on a specific date. “Obviously, we hate to put a timeline on anything, it could be sooner, it could be later, especially with a hamstring, but she’s here every day, she’s going through therapy, she misses (playing) badly, and we hope to have her back as soon as possible, because again, we don’t have a lot of time to figure things out in the WNBA. You hit the start button, you have to go. So we want to get Candace back as soon as possible.
“But,” he added, “we don’t want to rush it because we do feel we have a bright future, and we’re planning on August, September and October … and we want Candace to be a part of that, for sure.”
WITH LESLIE LOOKING ON
Most if not all of the Sparks approached Leslie to say hello after practice Tuesday, when Fisher said her presence in the gym contributed to an especially productive session.
“Personally, for me, that’s where my love for the Sparks started, was watching the two of them (Leslie and Sparks General Manager Penny Toler) play and win championships,” said Fisher, the former Lakers point guard. “I was just joking with Lisa a second ago that she should come every day … One of the greatest human beings in the world, but also one of the greatest basketball players to ever play. She has her own coaching gig going on, but we’ll see if I can convince her to spend a little more time around here.”

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