The Sparks hired the former Connecticut Sun head coach for the same position on Friday, bringing the two-time WNBA coach of the year to save the franchise that missed the playoffs two straight years.
Miller scored 140-86 during his seven-year tenure with The Sun in the regular season and led the team to six postseason appearances, including two WNBA Finals berths in the last four seasons.
The 54-year-old returns to the Sparks after serving as an assistant in 2015. The year still holds a “special place in my heart,” Miller told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. It was when he jumped from the college ranks into a star-studded Sparks team featuring Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Alana Beard and Kristi Toliver. They had championship ambitions. He told himself that if an opportunity to return ever presented itself, it would be hard to pass up.
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But the franchise Miller returns to seven years later is a far cry from its acclaimed past. The team has only had one playoff win in the past four years.
“I love to build,” said Miller, who was a head coach at Bowling Green and Indiana before joining the WNBA. “I’m looking at what a lot of people are going to see as a tough rebuild. I see it as an exciting time in LA where you can really create something special.”
Miller, who served as Sun’s general manager for six years, will only assume coaching responsibilities if a separate general manager is hired. While he was named WNBA Manager of the Year in 2017, Miller looks forward to focusing all of his energies on the coaching side as he works “in lockstep” with the future general manager to steer the franchise’s new era.
“The GM role was great, it helped me increase my knowledge of the league, it helped me understand the cap, it helped me understand the cap [collective bargaining agreement] and it’s taught me a lot and has certainly been an integral part of my growth in Connecticut,” Miller said. “At the same time, it takes a lot of time to wear the double hat.”
The Sparks, who finished 11th last year with a 13-23 record, may have a sour taste from their latest attempt to consolidate head coaching and general manager responsibilities thereafter Derek Fisher was released on June 7th. The former Laker went 37-19 in his first two years as a dedicated head coach in the regular season but was 17-27 when he took over as general manager. During free agency, Fisher lost Parker and All-Star guard Chelsea Gray, both of whom have rebounded with WNBA championships in the past two years, and signed Liz Cambage, who She left the team midway through her freshman year.
Miller has been instrumental in burying the Sparks in recent years, leading the Sun to seven straight straight wins, including one Explosion on August 11th at the Crypto.com Arena, which eliminated the Sparks from the playoffs last year.
The Sun, who missed the playoffs three straight years prior to Miller’s arrival, has been in the top three in the league on defensive and offensive ratings for the past two seasons. Featuring WNBA Most Valuable Player Jonquel Jones, they clinched first place in 2021 but never broke through to win the franchise’s first title.
“I’ll always be frustrated that we couldn’t win this championship,” Miller said.
Sparks executives must make important free agency decisions as they embark on their own championship hunt. The team have just two players from last year – Katie Lou Samuelson and Chennedy Carter – who will return on protected contracts. There is six unrestricted free agents, including Ogwumike. Miller has previously spoken to the former WNBA Most Valuable Player and seven-time All-Star.
“There’s no better leader in the league than Nneka,” said Miller, who also coached Chiney Ogwumike at Sun.
While the franchise must be rebuilt, Miller maintained his belief that the Sparks still carry a special energy that can inspire players to win championships.
“The players want to be in LA,” Miller said. “Now that we have stability and a vision and a new era, it’s going to be really exciting to sell that and talk to the players about a return to LA.”