With the Los Angeles Sparks a quarter into their 2018 WNBA season, and their current roster standing at only 11 active players, there’s no overlooking the fact that there’s still one very open slot on the current roster.
But could that 12th spot be reserved for rookie guard Karlie Samuelson? It’s certainly a possibility.
Why Karlie Samuelson is the Perfect Fit
Let me explain.
Samuelson joined the Sparks for the first time during their 2017 training camp period. But unfortunately, due to a fractured left foot, she was unable to complete camp. Samuelson did go on to play in Italy for Vigarano in the Serie A1 where she averaged 14.8 PPG and 4.9 RPG.
Fast-forward to April 26 of this year, the Sparks organization announced that Samuelson had in fact accepted an invitation to return to this year’s training camp. She once again stood out and made their final camp roster.
On May 7, the 6′ foot guard went on to start in her first pre-season game of the 2018 WNBA season against the Connecticut Sun. Against the Sun, she scored 14 points off of 6-7 attempts from the field. Samuelson also went 2-3 from 3-pt range and went on to record four rebounds and one steal.
Impressive for a rookie, right? But that performance was not surprising whatsoever, especially for those who were familiar with her, from her time at both Stanford and Vigarano.
When was the first time I saw her play?
That occurred on May 12th, when the Sparks played their last pre-season game of the year at the Hutto-Patterson Gymnasium on the campus of Pasadena City College in Pasadena, CA. That day, they took on the Chinese National Team.
I walked into the gymnasium about 45 minutes until tip off, trying to familiarize myself with all the new faces of the team before the game began. As I walked in, I greeted some of the Sparks staff before making my way to the bleachers. Once I found my spot, I sat directly behind the bench and in front of Nneka Ogwumike. Ogwumike had only arrived in Los Angeles a day or two before from her overseas obligations and was therefore not playing on this day.
Preseason with Karlie Samuelson
Throughout the entire game, I was fortunate enough to meet some of you there. The most common question you had for me was; “What do you think of the team?”
My answer: “I love Karlie Samuelson.”
She may not have had as big of a performance statistically as she did during the first pre-season game, but Samuelson was still contributing in other ways. She was fierce, aggressive and her physicality was something that you simply couldn’t miss. So much so that most of my post-game interview with Sparks head coach, Brian Agler, was about Samuelson.
“I think Karlie is battling and working hard,” Agler told me.
“She probably had a good chance of making our team a year ago. A year ago, in this game, she broke her foot, so that’s why she didn’t make our team. She’s played well, smart player, competes well, so as we move on this week, it will be interesting how our final roster moves,” he said.
A few days later, Samuelson was cut, and the Sparks chose to move forward with an 11-player final roster.
Now, the WNBA allows a max of 12 players to be signed to a team contract. This meant that the Sparks strategically chose to opt in for only 11 players. This made no sense.
My initial thought process was, “Okay, she’s probably not what the team needs right now. They’re probably looking for another post player rather than another guard.”
In short-term thought process, this made sense.
But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was the missing piece to the puzzle and that they did in fact need her.
Here is why. Samuelson has the ability to be versatile. She’s an effective shooter, particularly from deep which is an area where the Sparks struggle. Her spacing fits well with the team. Samuelson also has the speed and quickness needed for this level of basketball; doesn’t shy away from the physicality of the game and can defend very well.
The list goes on but needless to say, Sparks’ fans were disappointed that the organization decided to waive her, only to then, be surprised by another unexpected move a few days later.
Sparks announced that veteran forward, Candace Parker had to miss the season opener against rivaled team, Minnesota Lynx, due to an unspecified back injury, and would be listed as day-by-day.
With Parker out of the lineup, along with center Jantel Lavender (overseas) and Russian rookie, Maria Vadeeva (visa), this left the Sparks with only 9 active players on the roster.
In comes Karlie Samuelson.
In the WNBA, when a team has fewer than 10 available players in the roster, they can apply for what’s called, an emergency hardship cap exception. This allows them to sign a replacement player in order to fill some void from missing players.
The league then terminates this request once 10 players are again available.
In this case, on May 19, the Sparks announced they would be re-signing Samuelson as a replacement player fitting with the leagues rules.
The Stanford Cardinal went on to play in a total of four games for the Sparks, and averaged 3.5 PPG and shot 40 percent from the 3-pt range.
Shortly after, the team welcomed back Lavender after she finished playing in the Turkish League Finals for Yakin Dogu. Unfortunately, this meant that the league would be terminating the emergency hardship exception. Once again, Samuelson was let go.
Keep in mind that during this entire process, there was still that 12th roster spot available with hopes of Samuelson filling it. But again, disappointment arose when the team officially announced that they had indeed, waived the rookie guard.
This is where it gets interesting.
Despite being waived and no longer playing with the team, she appears to be closer to the squad, more than ever. On June 3, the Sparks played their first game without her. Coincidentally, against Minnesota, but this time, on home turf.
I was on the floor filming stand-ups pregame when I turned to my right, and saw Karlie Samuelson, much to my surprise. I walked over, greeted her, met her lovely mom, then continued filming. It did’t seem completely out of the ordinary for her to be there supporting her former teammates. Because of that, there wasn’t much thought given to the situation.
— Delmy Barillas (@DelmyBarillas) June 3, 2018
But, as the games went by, I soon noticed Samuelson was attending every single game. Per usual, she was just as sweet as ever and greeted myself and anyone else who approached her to say, hello.
As much as I loved the support she has been giving her former team, this raised questions.
Was she there because she’s supporting, or because she in fact knew, she would be rejoining the team, or both?
A few weeks ago, I attended a Sparks practice. A practice where I spoke with Agler about that 12th roster spot and the future of adding on an additional player.
“It will be 11 and then we’ll have the ability if we want to, to pick somebody up sometime in late June,” he said.
Agler, proceeded to praise Samuelson’s performance and impact on the team during the four games in which she played.
“She had great impact,” said Agler.
“She played very well, she competed, I don’t think people understand how good a competitor she is, great competitor, obviously shoots the ball real well, extremely smart, great teammate so she was a huge benefit for us.”
With confirmation that the team may indeed look to sign someone else in late June, and the fact that the entire organization had nothing but reaffirming and positive things to say about her, I started to draw my own conclusions.
There was also the fact that Samuelson was indeed still “floating” around without a contract offer, which, if you’ve seen her play, was very hard to believe that no one was interested in acquiring her.
My conclusion, she could very well be the person that the 12th spot is reserved for.
So, why wait until later this month to acquire her?
I went into Tuesday night’s game with one sole mission, and that was, to get answers.
This is what Brian Agler had to say when I asked on an update for that empty roster spot.
“We’re going to add [to the roster]. I think the date we can add somebody is the 24th. It all has to do with your cap space.
A cap is like a budget. For example, we couldn’t use a replacement player for Maria [Vadeeva] because she came late or Jantel [Lavender] because she came late because they signed their contracts, and their salary is on the cap since they signed their contract.
So we added Karlie [Samuelson] from a standpoint because we were missing people, we even got the exemption so that’s why we had the ability to add her, but when one of those two came in, which was Jantel, then we had to release Karlie.
Now, she didn’t go on waivers because she had already been on waivers after training camp so now, she’s just floating out there, so that’s why. But on the 24th we can add a rookie contract and we can add a veteran contract … ”
“Could that be Karlie”, I asked.
“Oh, we’re gonna add somebody.”
Is that Karlie?
“Karlie, we like Karlie.”
I proceeded to point out that she had been in attendance at every home game this season, to which he replied, “Yeah, she’s from here, she’s been at the games, she played well when she was here, I mean, we like Karlie.”
Karlie Samuelson Will Join the Sparks
Yes, while she is from Fullerton, CA, and has her friends and family here, all the evidence points to Karlie Samuelson returning to the purple and gold.