Sparks signs Kristi Toliver, trades with Atlanta

Los Angeles made big noise on day one of free agency.

The veteran guard Kristi Toliver is making her return to Los Angeles after notching her second WNBA title with the Washington Mystics. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Kristi Toliver is making her way back to Los Angeles after signing a three-year deal, the Los Angeles Sparks announced on Monday afternoon.

The three-time All-Star became an unrestricted free agent after being instrumental in the Washington Mystics’ championship run in 2019. After nabbing her second WNBA Championship with the Mystics, Toliver is taking her talents back to the Sparks, whom she spent seven years of her career with and won her first title with back in 2016.

Toliver is bringing her perimeter skill set with her back to the Sparks, an area that the team struggled with last season. Her addition to the team gives the Sparks a needed boost on both ends of the floor as well as depth with their guards.

All-Star guard Chelsea Gray shouldered the brunt of guard position last season playing an average 32.6 minutes a game. Gray has become a viable playmaker and scorer in her career, which leads to a team needing her on the court. However, even in the semifinals against Connecticut, there are times in which she gets lost in the sauce and cannot recover.

Riquna Williams and Sydney Wiese split minutes in the shooting guard position last season. Williams is a streaky shooter, who can get hot at any time, but sometimes is unable to maintain her play for longer stretches. Wiese fulfilled playmaking duties and was able to shoot the ball well, but is still a growing player.

Toliver gives the guard unit another option as she can plug in at both the point and shooting guard positions. The Sparks could either use her as a starter in the shooting guard role or bring her off the bench, at times, as a point guard. As a veteran player, it does not matter the position, but the impact of the play is what matters.

“Heading into 2020 Free Agency, we wanted to add players that possess multiple skill sets and Kristi is at the top of that list,” Sparks Head Coach Derek Fisher said about signing Toliver.

As Los Angeles continued to cross off each of their needs on their list, they went out and got more depth for the frontcourt and backcourt.

The Sparks dealt second-year center Kalani Brown to the Atlanta Dream for guard Brittney Sykes and center Marie Gülich to open the first day of free agency.

“Brittney is an athletic young guard who puts pressure on the defense, gets to the free-throw line and takes pride on the defensive end. Marie gives our frontcourt additional rim protection and rebounding,” said Managing Partner and Governor Eric Holoman on the new additions.

Sykes comes from Atlanta off a bad shooting year, but the Sparks see her as a valuable player. She brings her own special energy to the floor when she has everything clicking for her offensively. Sykes averages 11.3 points with a 39.3 field goal percentage in her career.

As a good defender, Sykes joins a Sparks team that ranked third in the league’s defensive rating. With her skill set, she will be able to help the Sparks on that end of the floor even more with smaller wings that some of the Sparks frontcourt players would have a hard time with.

Gülich is a versatile big that will fit into the frontcourt rotation behind the Ogwumikes and Candace Parker. Los Angeles sees Gülich as a helpful addition for the frontcourt with rim protection and rebounding. Depending on what Los Angeles plans to do with Gülich, she could bode well in the frontcourt following limited showings in 2019.

Gülich reunites with her college teammate in Sydney Wiese as she joins the Sparks. The two played together at Oregon State from 2014 to 2017.

Los Angeles made a splash on the first day of free agency to fulfill a couple of their needs on their list. There are still more moves to be made to smooth out the roster and fit. After a less than favorable semifinal result in 2019, the Sparks are looking to improve and make another run at title contention in 2020.

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