New Sparks GM Karen Bryant is preparing for WNBA free agency

Karen Bryant He was supposed to interview the candidates sparksposition of general manager. Then it turned out to be the best choice.

the previous Seattle Storm The CEO transitioned from a behind-the-scenes contributor to Sparks’ rebuilding to a senior architect on Tuesday when the team announced her appointment as general manager and chief administrative officer. With the franchise mired in its worst two-year stretch, Bryant will lay the foundation for a new Sparks era during the upcoming free agency period.

“This is a crucial year for us,” Bryant said at her inaugural press conference on Wednesday. Head coach Kurt Miller. “Kurt and I are here to help lead a transformation in the basketball aspect of the organization and we have a lot of work to do.”

The Sparks, who have missed the playoffs in consecutive years, have only two players on guaranteed contracts next year along with six unrestricted free agents. They have the most available cover space. They do not have a 2023 first-round draft pick, which was traded in a deal that included acquisition Sineday Carter from Atlanta, who then sent the pick to Washington.

Bryant has personally seen the value of the WNBA’s top draft picks. During her 15-year tenure with the Seattle Storm, the team has built a great deal of its success on No. 1 picks Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. After quitting in 2014, Storm won two more championships as the #1 Jewell Lloyd (2015) and Breanna Stewart (2016) franchise with Baird, who retired in 2022.

As the Storm’s inaugural COO before transitioning to president and CEO for seven years, Bryant helped cement the franchise’s status as a major WNBA team with commercial successes such as the Storm’s first jersey partnership.

But she hasn’t held a position like this in the 25 years since she was named general manager of the defunct NBA’s Seattle Reign in 1998.

Times have changed drastically in women’s professional basketball. Combining general manager and head coaching duties — as Miller did for six years at Connecticut — is no longer possible for most teams, according to Miller, because of a collective bargaining agreement approved in 2020 that has made salary cap decisions more difficult. Analytics, scouts and people are more advanced. Bryant jokes that technology still scares her.

Bryant has admitted that she is “rusty” in evaluating players, ranking salary cap requirements and making decisions about roster building. She added that there was a “steep learning curve” ahead.

When Sparks fired Derek Fisher last JuneAt the time, Bryant was simply assisting in the team’s search for a general manager as a strategic advisor, a role she began in 2021. When the team began its coaching search in earnest after the season, Bryant began speaking with Miller, who was then the coach of the Connecticut Sun. A shared vision emerged, and ownership approached Bryant about taking on the role of general manager themselves.

CEO and outgoing president of the Seattle Storm, Karen Bryant, smiles as she is being honored on her final day.

Karen Bryant is honored during her final day as CEO and President of the Seattle Storm on July 31, 2014.

(Eileen Thompson/The Associated Press)

“Unexpected for me and I think ultimately unexpected for the organization,” Bryant said, “but I think as we sit here today as partners, I think we’re very pleased and confident that we can collaborate and lead this organization forward.”

New assistant general manager Eli Horowitz, who spent most of his six-year tenure with the team working in communications, will join Bryant and Miller. He will oversee player personnel, scouting, salary cap management and basketball analytics after serving last season as Senior Director of Communications and Basketball Analytics.

Her roster-building experience is limited in the WNBA, but Bryant notes that she helped bring coaches Ann Donovan and Brian Agler to Seattle. They each won one WNBA title for the franchise.

“She’s on top of this, she understands this league and most importantly, she wins,” Miller said. “And she knows how to bring winning teams together.”

Miller began putting together his coaching staff on Wednesday, announcing Chris Couklanis and Steve Smith as assistants and hiring Nola Henry as player development coach. Kouklanis has overseen Connecticut’s defense under Miller for the past two seasons. Smith previously worked in Los Angeles under Orlando Woolridge (1998), Michael Cooper (2008-2009), Gene Gillum (2010), and Benny Toler (2014), before he and Miller worked for Agler’s Sparks in 2015. Miller brought in Smith to Connecticut from 2016-18.

Miller said he is still “actively seeking” a third assistant coach, which is permissible if teams hire former WNBA players.

Over the past six months, the Sparks have completely rebuilt their business and basketball operations with a new president, coach, and general manager. With free agency set to begin in four weeks, a new slate is on the way. Pushing the franchise into a reboot and rebuilding can be long and at times frustrating for impatient fans, but Bryant and Miller think it’s worth it.

“We’re going to measure, and we’re going to be disciplined in our approach,” Bryant said. “We will not take shortcuts and are in this for continued success.”

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