The Sparks, who had the WNBA's best regular-season record last summer at 28-4, have the last of 16 picks in the first round today of the league's richest draft.
But until late Thursday afternoon, it looked as if they, with one phone call, could go from last to first, which would have given them the opportunity to draft Australia's Lauren Jackson.
When the 6-foot-5 Jackson--considered by many to be the world's best women's player not yet in the WNBA--finally signed a league contract Wednesday, she made herself a near-certain No. 1 pick.
Although Seattle (6-26) has the first pick, Coach/General Manager Lin Dunn had listened to all offers for the past several months. But late Thursday, she ended the speculation.
"There's no trade," she said. "I'm keeping the pick."
Teams involved will not name names, but here's one deal that had been discussed:
* The Sparks would send starters DeLisha Milton, Ukari Figgs and their first pick to Seattle for Jackson.
* The Washington Mystics would send Chamique Holdsclaw, one other starter and the ninth pick for Jackson. The new Mystic coach, Tom Maher, was Australia's national team coach at the Sydney Olympics. The Australians lost in the championship game to the U.S. team.
Dunn confirmed early Thursday that she talked to the Sparks about a deal, but adds, "It was in general terms, not specific players."
She added, "I'm leaning toward keeping that first pick, but I'm going to keep listening right up to the draft."
Six hours later, though, she indicated Jackson is Seattle-bound.
Jackson, 19, has played the last two seasons in the Australia Women's National Basketball League, earning most-valuable-player honors in both seasons. She averaged 21.6 points, 14.2 rebounds and shot 39% from the three-point line.
Sonny Allen, the Sacramento Monarchs' coach, has seen film of Jackson and echoes the opinion held by most in the women's game.
"She's a once-in-a-decade center," he said. "No one else in this draft has that kind of ability."
Barring some other draft-day deal, it looks as if the Sparks' two player transactions last Oct. 11 will stand as the their only off-season moves.
On that day, they sent wing Allison Feaster and center Clarisse Machanguana, both reserves, to Charlotte for 6-3 center Rhonda Mapp and 5-8 guard E.C. Hill.
On the same day, the Sparks sent La'Keshia Frett to Sacramento for 5-11 forward Latasha Byears.
Even before Jackson signed, the WNBA's fifth draft was considered the deepest yet.
Roughly half the league's 16 coaches, including Dunn, feel they can draft two starters today. Seattle also has the first pick of the second round.
"I'll get a starter with that one too," Dunn said.
If there is no monster deal for Seattle's pick, Spark General Manager Penny Toler and Coach Michael Cooper have their eyes on two quick, defense-oriented perimeter players: Missouri's Amanda Lassiter (6-1) and Xavier's Nicole Levandusky (5-9), who had 376 career steals.
There is some pressure on the Sparks with their first-round pick. A year ago, they took Nebraska guard Nicole Kubik, who then became the WNBA's first first-round draft choice to be cut before the opening game. She is now on the Phoenix Mercury roster.
In today's four rounds, the Sparks draft 16th, 32nd, 48th and 64th.
Picking second today is Charlotte (8-24). Several coaches around the league expect the Sting to take one half of Georgia's Miller twins, Kelly. Her sister, Coco, is also projected as a first-rounder.
Another theory is that Charlotte--last in attendance--needs to sell tickets. That could mean the Sting will take Jackie Stiles, the 5-8 offensive scoring machine from Southwest Missouri State.
If that happens, then the Final Four's most outstanding player, Notre Dame's 6-5 Ruth Riley, would fall to Indiana as a home-state No. 3 pick.
Indiana appeared to clear the way for such a pick last week when the Fever sent 6-7 Kara Wolters to Sacramento for the Monarchs' No. 14 pick.
"We needed size inside and would like to have drafted Schumacher [6-5 Kelly, of Connecticut], but I didn't think she'd be available at 14," he said.
There will be two first-rounders taken today who don't figure to play this summer.
Connecticut's Svetlana Abrosimova (foot) and Tennessee's Tamika Catchings (knee) both underwent surgery last season and are longshots to play at all.
ESPN2 will cover the first round today, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Projected WNBA Draft First Round
Based on interviews with six WNBA coaches and general managers, here's a consensus look at how today's first round might go:
Team: 1. Seattle
Player: Lauren Jackson
Comment: Strong, fast and a three-point shot.
Team: 2. Charlotte
Player: Jackie Stiles
School/Team: SW Missouri St.
Comment: Perfect fit for the Sting.
Team: 3. Indiana
Player: Ruth Riley
School/Team: Notre Dame
Comment: Great senior season.
Team: 4. Portland
Player: Kelly Miller
Comment: Like Stiles, always open.
Team: 5. Miami