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Sparks Hope Different Makes a Difference

Club wants younger, faster players running the floor with Johnson directing the offense.

April 23, 2006|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

No doubt there will be a new look to the Sparks, who open their training camp for the 2006 WNBA season today.

A changing roster is still being shuffled. Only two players -- Lisa Leslie and Mwadi Mabika -- remain from the 2002 WNBA championship team.

Four players are already gone from last year's 17-17 team, which finished fourth in the Western Conference and lost in the first round of the playoffs to eventual champion Sacramento. Nikki Teasley was traded to Washington. Tamecka Dixon and Tamika Whitmore signed as free agents with Houston and Indiana, respectively. Chicago took Laura Macchi in the league expansion draft.

And there is the third coaching staff in two years. Joe Bryant, who replaced Henry Bibby as the interim coach with five games left in the 2005 season, has the job full time.

Bryant, the father of Laker star Kobe Bryant, is finishing coaching in Japan and won't return to the U.S. until around May 1, but he says he wants a team that can pressure on defense and play at a fast clip.

"We definitely want to run and get into our offense," Bryant said. "There may be times where we have to walk it up and set it up, but I want a fast tempo."

That's one reason Bryant and General Manager Penny Toler wanted a younger quicker team.

The Sparks will still depend heavily on the veteran core of Leslie, Mabika, Chamique Holdsclaw, Doneeka Hodges, Christi Thomas and Raffaella Masciadri.

But Temeka Johnson, the 2005 rookie of the year who, along with Murriel Page, came to Los Angeles in the Teasley trade, is expected to push the offense. First-round draft pick Lisa Willis from UCLA will potentially provide the consistent three-point threat Toler said the team lacked last year.

"We want to compete but don't want to get old," Toler said. "I think we've added some pieces to what is still a good core."

Assistant coach Michael Abraham will run the workouts until Bryant returns.

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