"I want to ask you a question," Seimone Augustus said.
It was nearing the end of our interview, and the Los Angeles Sparks' 15-year veteran was fed up. Not with me, specifically, but the narrative surrounding her at this stage of her career.
"Why do you feel like I'm not the player in my prime or that I can't perform at this point?" Augustus said. "Cause I've been getting that a lot. And I said the next reporter that says anything about my performance or old, I'm gonna ask them, 'Why's that the narrative when you talk about me?'"
It was a fair question, but it's also fair to question how much of an impact Augustus can make for the Sparks. Now 36 years old, she's coming off by far the worst season of her career. Knee injuries limited her to 12 games in 2019, and she shot 31.3 percent from the field.
Her shocking decision to leave the Lynx in free agency after 14 seasons -- one she would only say was "based on the conversations I had with Minnesota" -- didn't quell the concerns. When basketball players -- even legends like Augustus -- start going down this road, it's typically tough to turn things around.
Augustus knows this but insists that none of it -- the poor season, the doubts that followed it, whatever happened with the Lynx -- is motivating her.
"I don't have anything to prove to anyone at this point," Augustus said. "I wasn't 100 percent healthy last year. I gave my all, all that I had at that moment, and it wasn't the best of me. And now that I've had my rest, had my time to recover, at this stage and this point of my career, people who are basketball heads and have been watching know what I can do when I'm healthy. So I'm just going out there to have fun, to be honest. I'm going to have fun and leave it all out there on the floor."
She did just that in her Sparks debut, coming off the bench to score 14 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor in a 23-point win over the Phoenix Mercury. Her second game, however, didn't go so well. She scored just three points on 1-of-6 shooting, and the Sparks suffered an 18-point loss to the Chicago Sky.
Whether the next few months inside the IMG Academy bubble are more like the first game or the second, Augustus is committed to doing anything she can to help the Sparks compete for a title. She's fully healthy now, a silver lining to the WNBA's delayed start, and feels comfortable with her new team.
"I've always been about I can play with anyone, as long as they work hard," Augustus said. "And this team works extremely hard, they leave it all out there on the floor, so I can definitely figure out ways to help and make myself effective with the way they all operate. I accept any role that comes my way. So it's just a matter of mindset and knowing what you bring to the table. I'm always gonna be comfortable with doing me. When I step on the court, whether it's starting or coming off the bench, I'm gonna bring what I have to the table."
For coach Derek Fisher, Augustus has been a welcome addition to their locker room. She has boosted the Sparks' spirit and helped them stay loose while preparing for what figures to be the strangest season in league history
"It's only been a few weeks, but Seimone has been phenomenal," Fisher said. "A lot of times for veteran players that have played the game as long as Seimone has, it's easy to lose the joy, and to really enjoy coming to the gym and being around your teammates, because you've seen it all and done it all. But for Seimone, she still just has a joy about her."
The way last season ended for the Sparks, they needed as much joy as they could get. Fisher benched Candace Parker for much of the team's deciding Game 3 loss in the playoffs to the Connecticut Sun, and there were reports of friction between the players, coaching staff and front office in the aftermath of their semi-final collapse.
Augustus wasn't around for any of that, and she said communication hasn't been an issue for Los Angeles. The lack of fans has actually been helpful as she adjusts to the new system, since she can clearly hear every play call on both ends. The Sparks consciously try to "make as much noise as we can," keep up their positive energy and encourage each other.
"Our mindset as far as the Sparks is 'we're all we got,'" Augustus said.
Despite the absences of Kristi Toliver, Chiney Ogwumike and Maria Vadeeva, all of whom are sitting out this season, the Sparks are a contender to win it all. That's largely because they still have Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray leading the way.
That's as talented and experienced a trio as there is in the league. To win a title, though, they'll need help. Even late on in her career, Augustus believes she can be the one to provide it.
"People have just been saying, "old, old, old" since '18," she said. "And I'm not the oldest player here. I'm amongst the oldest here in this bubble, but I still feel like I got some gas in the tank."