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The Los Angeles Sparks made big organizational changes in the offseason, both on and off the court. It will take time to see if the former are enough to get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2020, but the latter are already drawing rave reviews. 

Franchise stalwart Nneka Ogwumike, who has been with the Sparks since she was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft, told reporters at the start of training camp, "This is the first time I've really experienced what I believe to be a professional organization."

"And that leaves space for me to not have to step into a manager role, which doesn't leave me a lot of time to do the things that I really want to do, which is play basketball and hang out with my teammates," Ogwumike continued. "I really feel like I've relinquished a lot of that because we have some truly phenomenal people that have turned this organization into what it deserves to be."

That is both high praise for new general manager Karen Bryant and head coach Curt Miller, each of whom were hired during the offseason, and a damning indictment of the numerous regimes that came before them. 

The Sparks are one of the league's premier franchises; they are one of three clubs left standing from the inaugural 1997 season, have won three titles (tied for the second-most all-time), made five Finals and been to the playoffs in 20 of 26 seasons. They have not always been run as such, however, particularly in recent years. 

Some of the problems were well known, such as former long-time GM Penny Toler's dismissal in 2019 after allegations of mismanagement and poor treatment of players that included using racial epithets in the locker room following a playoff loss in 2019. But some, reading between the lines of Ogwumike's comments, were (and are) not. 

It's also worth considering how much last season's increased levels of dysfunction and chaos are playing into Ogwumike's improved mindset. The Sparks made a number of high-profile free additions to the roster last season, but Liz Cambage left in the middle of the season and Chennedy Carter only appeared in 24 games and was waived in March. Furthermore, Derek Fisher was removed as head coach and GM after a disappointing tenure on both fronts, and the Sparks missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-1998. 

Almost anything would be better than that disaster, but it seems Bryant and Miller's goal of "culture creation" is already paying off. 

"We are not going to cut corners," Miller said during his introductory press conference. "We are excited about building a culture, and for me, culture starts with preparation. That is always our first pillar.

"Championships are won in the locker room before they are won on the court."