Sparks fire Derek Fisher as coach and general manager
Derek Fisher and the Sparks mutually agreed to part ways after a disappointing 5-7 start to the season, the team announced Tuesday, relieving him of head coach and general manager duties. Fisher’s less than four-year tenure ends with a 54-46 overall record and a 1-4 postseason mark.
Assistant coach Fred Williams will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Williams has already been hired as the associate head coach of the Auburn women’s basketball team, a role he accepted last month and was expected to start in mid-summer.
The Sparks play next on Saturday against the Las Vegas Aces at Crypto.com Arena.
“After a thorough evaluation of the state of our team, the Sparks and GM/Head Coach Derek Fisher have agreed to part ways,” managing partner Eric Holoman said in the team’s statement. “On behalf of our ownership group, I want to thank Derek for his efforts and contributions to the Sparks franchise. We wish him the best moving forward. I have full confidence in Fred Williams to step into the role of interim head coach, bringing a wealth of experience leading WNBA teams.”
Hoping to rebound from the franchise’s first time missing the postseason since 2011, Fisher assembled a talented roster in his capacity as general manager. With new stars such as center Liz Cambage and point guard Jordin Canada joining 11-year veteran forward Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks were one of the most intriguing teams in the league, especially after starting the season with back-to-back road wins.
The bright start quickly faded into a five-game losing streak made more difficult by the team’s brutal early-season schedule. The Sparks had eight of their first 11 games on the road and never had more than two consecutive days without a game in May. The busy calendar limited valuable practice time that the team could have used to build its chemistry with eight new players, but Fisher took solace that four of the team’s first six losses came by a combined 13 points, and that things could turn around.
After their first extended practice opportunity of the season, the Sparks lost 81-74 to the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.
New Sparks president Vanessa Shay will be tasked with boosting the team to new business success while contending in a crowded sports market.
This is the second head coaching job the five-time NBA champion has been dismissed from. The former Lakers point guard was dismissed in the middle of his second season with the New York Knicks in 2016 with a 40-96 record.
Fisher said in the team’s statement he will “shift my focus back to pursuing other opportunities and private endeavors.”
“It has been an amazing ride,” he said, “and I wish the entire L.A. Sparks organization great success moving forward.”
Fisher was hired by the Sparks in 2018, replacing Brian Agler, who resigned after four seasons. Since Agler led the team to the 2016 championship, the Sparks have gradually faded from prominence. They came one win away from repeating as champions in 2017 — losing to the Minnesota Lynx in five games in the Finals — then lost in the second round of playoffs in 2018.
Though Fisher enjoyed regular-season success in his first two seasons — his 37-19 record gave him the second-most regular-season wins during the period behind only Las Vegas’ Bill Laimbeer — the biggest postseason highlight of Fisher’s Sparks tenure might be when he benched star Candace Parker in Game 3 of the 2019 WNBA semifinals. As Connecticut swept the Sparks out of the playoffs, Parker fumed on the bench after playing only 11 minutes in the final game.
The fraught relationship between the two-time WNBA most valuable player and her coach loomed over Fisher’s first offseason as general manager when Parker and point guard Chelsea Gray were unrestricted free agents. When Fisher added general manager responsibilities to his head coaching role in 2021, it was meant to bring stability to a franchise that had been relying on a mix of interim tags and assistants to fill in after former general manager Penny Toler was fired in October 2019 for using a racial slur in the locker room. The new role didn’t help as Parker and Gray left as free agents.
While the Sparks missed the playoffs last year, Parker led her hometown Chicago Sky to their first WNBA championship.
Williams, 65, is a 30-year coaching veteran with WNBA head coaching stops with the Utah Starzz, Atlanta Dream and Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings. He was a key force in signing Cambage, who played under the longtime coach in Dallas. Williams was fired as the Wings’ head coach in 2018, but Cambage said she shared a pinkie promise that they would meet again in L.A.
“I appreciate the opportunity to steer the team under these circumstances, alongside assistant coaches Latricia Trammell and Seimone Augustus,” Williams said in the team’s statement. “We have a talented group of players focused on making a run to the WNBA playoffs and we will collectively embrace this challenge.”