January 23, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Derek Fisher to become GM in Sparks’ reorganization

Derek Fisher’s contract extension might turn out to be the final decision among the Sparks that the head coach isn’t involved in.

With a critical free-agency period ahead, Fisher added general manager to his list of responsibilities Tuesday as the organization announced several moves within its basketball operations department.

The changes included a coaching extension for Fisher, who assured reporters he recused his general manager alter ego from negotiations involving the deal. Instead, he eagerly takes on a wide-reaching position that includes overseeing roster construction and leading coaches, trainers, support staff and other business employees who impact the team beyond just the court.

“I strongly feel the advantage of being both general manager and head coach will allow me to have a more hands-on approach to doing everything that I can humanly do to help our players become successful and help us become successful,” Fisher said during a conference call, “not just winning on the court, but also our organizational vision and how we want to work together and collaborate on a daily basis.”

Fisher will take over the general manager position that has been empty since October 2019, when Penny Toler was fired for using a racial slur in the locker room. His 39-17 record during the last two years is second only to Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer for regular-season wins during that span, but the third-seeded Sparks failed to win a playoff game last season, getting bounced in a second-round, single-elimination game by the Connecticut Sun.

After working with Fisher on personnel decisions since Toler’s dismissal, Michael Fischer, the assistant general manager, will be named vice president of player personnel, and Eric Holoman, the managing partner and governor who was serving as interim general manager, will rise to chief executive officer and governor.

Clarifying the roles within the organization with free agency looming was “crucial,” Fisher said. The Sparks have nine players set to become free agents, including stars Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray.

“We’re not just asking these ladies to show up and play basketball and punch a clock,” Fisher said. “They need to feel and believe that there’s purpose and intent to everything that we’re doing. So yes, timing-wise, it was very important to make this announcement and provide this additional clarity, but the work doesn’t stop.”

When asked about Parker, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent, Fisher said it is his intention as general manager that the 34-year-old two-time MVP never plays for another WNBA team, although formal contract discussions haven’t started yet.

“There’s no hesitation around that,” Fisher said.

The Sparks also announced president and COO Danita Johnson will leave the organization after almost two years in the role. Senior vice president Natalie White will step in as the interim president and COO. Johnson is expected to be named president of business operations for D.C. United, according to The Washington Post. She would be the first Black person to serve in that role in the MLS and one of the highest-ranking female executives in league history, according to Sports Business Daily.