LOS ANGELES — Before she even entered the ring Friday, Sparks stepped up Azura Stevens had a happy coincidence.
As he walked into the Crypto.com Arena, his home page after signing with the Sparks as an unrestricted free agent in February, he was met by a bus carrying his old Sky team. For some, such gatherings may be disturbing. But Stevens welcomes the chance to sign with some of his former teammates.
”It was a beautiful time,” Stevens said. “I have to say hello to everyone, and we'll catch up after the game.”
Stevens was one of four unrestricted free agents to leave Sky in free agency. They all have reasons. For Stevens, his decision to move on from Sky after three seasons and a championship was the allure of being part of something built from scratch.
Of course, the Sparks have an established championship culture. They were the last WNBA team to win back-to-back titles (2001-02) and won their third title by Candace Parker in 2016. But after back-to-back seasons of missing the postseason, the Sparks are trying to rebuild themselves.
“Everyone's looked at LA for the last few years,” said Stevens. “It's been a little rocky. But we were trying to build something special, and I really wanted to play with it Mother (Ogwumike).”
During free agency, Stevens came face-to-face with several teams while he was playing overseas in Turkey. However, Sparks is not one of them. They were the only team he had met virtually.
However, in the end, it didn't matter. Stevens liked what he heard from Sparks' new coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant. Although Sky is one of three teams Stevens is considering, he says there are no more coaches/GMs James Wade could be done to recontract him.
“I've spoken to James about coming back and what they have to offer,” Stevens said. “I don't know, I wouldn't say I'm not interested. It's time for me to move on to a new chapter in my life and career on all cylinders.”
Stevens' first season with the Sparks began on reported injuries with a minor back injury. He missed their first five games before making his debut in this week's loss to the Storm. He finished with four points, three rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes.
In the next chapter of his career, Stevens said he was looking forward to redefining himself. He spends his time with Heaven learning from the veterans around him. With Sparks, he's learned to accept the veteran designation and is ready to take advantage of an expanded role.
”I have the opportunity to be more reckoned with from a leadership perspective, and I'm ready for it,” said Stevens. ”I learned a lot from good vets throughout my (career). It's great that I have the opportunity to showcase the skills I've learned.”
After Sky had played five of its first eight games with less than 10 available players, Wade stepped into the middle Uncle Hillsman and go ahead Taylor Soule for trouble contracts. The two arrived in Los Angeles hours before Sky's match against the Sparks.
Wade had to end one contract when the team had 10 available players. The others will end when Isabelle Harrison (knee) or Rebekah Gardner (feet) back.